By Steve Herman
Political tensions between China and Japan overshadowed the annual gathering of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Tokyo Wednesday. Top officials representing the world’s second-largest economy are not attending.
In an unusual break with its own protocol, China is not sending its key senior officials to the most important annual round of global meetings of finance ministers and central bankers.
The World Bank confirms China’s finance minister, Xie Xuren, and the governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, will be represented by lower ranking officials.
It was previously announced that the four top Chinese banks would not be at the gathering, which is being attended by relevant officials from 180 countries.
The downgrading of the Chinese delegation is seen as a snub of host Japan, with which an old territorial dispute has recently escalated.
China cited a tight schedule as the reason its top officials cannot attend. In Beijing Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked if the officials’ absence indicates China’s unhappiness over the territorial dispute.
He says Japan’s purchase of the Diaoyu Islands is a serious infringement upon China’s sovereignty. He says Japan should acknowledge the dispute between the two countries and hold talks on the issue.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba calls China’s absence “very disappointing.”
Chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura says it is a pity Chinese officials have declined to attend such an important meeting
Fujimura says since economic exchanges between Japan and China are important the Japanese government will take a broader view and continue to try communicating with China.
There is concern the feud over the group of small islands claimed by China but controlled by Japan could adversely affect their economies and others in the region.
Bank of France governor Christian Noyer calls the absence of his Chinese counterpart and the finance minister a diplomatic issue he should refrain from commenting on.
“I hope that the discussions in the various meetings will be successful in any case,” he said.
After Japan’s government moved last month to buy the disputed islands – which are called Senkaku in Japanese – from a private Japanese owner, relations with China quickly deteriorated.
Nationwide protests erupted in China. Japanese automakers saw September car sales in China plunge.
Share prices of automakers came under pressure in Wednesday’s trading, helping to send the Tokyo market to a two-month low with the benchmark Nikkei index closing two percent lower for the day.