China cancels top finance meet amid tensions

TOKYO - China has cancelled a top annual finance meeting with Japan and South Korea, officials in Tokyo and Beijing said on Friday, amid simmering diplomatic tensions.

An official with the Japanese finance ministry told AFP that "China has informed us that the meeting won't be held" on the sidelines of an Asian Development Bank meeting in Delhi next month.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the three countries have been meeting once a year in the lead up to separate talks with their Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts.

China, which chairs the trilateral finance meeting, said it was called off "because there were no issues that needed to be discussed and coordinated by the three countries", the Japanese official said.

A Chinese finance ministry official, who gave his surname as Pan, confirmed the cancellation, citing as the reason that "there is nothing to talk about".

He said that the meeting is primarily to prepare for a meeting of finance ministers from the three countries at the ASEAN+3 meeting.

"But we have done all the coordination work at the ASEAN finance ministers' meeting in Brunei this April, so there is no need to hold this one", he said.

However, Japanese public broadcaster NHK and the Asahi newspaper reported that the cancellation may have been stoked by events earlier this week when nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers visited a controversial war shrine in central Tokyo, seen as a potent symbol of Japan's imperialist past.

Beijing and Seoul see the Yasukuni shrine as a brutal reminder of Japan's wartime aggression as it honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals.

The move sparked an angry diplomatic response from China and South Korea, which are also both embroiled in tense territorial disputes with Tokyo.

"The Chinese side didn't touch on those topics," the Japanese official said in response to questions about whether the diplomatic issues were the reason for the meeting's cancellation.

Earlier on Friday, three Chinese government ships entered Japanese territorial waters in the latest incursion near a set of disputed islands, days after Japan's premier vowed to expel any Chinese landing on the archipelago.

The maritime surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile zone off the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, the Japanese coastguard said.

On Tuesday, eight Chinese government vessels sailed into the disputed waters, the biggest flotilla to sail there in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the island chain in September.

The move sparked an angry response from Tokyo, with Japanese premier Shinzo Abe vowing to "expel by force" any landing by the Chinese on the chain, which is believed to harbour vast natural resources below its seabed.

Since the nationalisation, state-owned Chinese ships have frequently spent time around the five disputed islands, also claimed by Taiwan.

In a separate territorial row, relations between Tokyo and South Korea have also been strained by a dispute over a Seoul-controlled chain of islets in the Sea of Japan, which Seoul calls the East Sea.

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