BEIJING, April 17 -- The foreign ministers of China and Japan met for urgently arranged talks Sunday as anti-Japanese protests continued in several Chinese cities. The two sides later reported little progress in resolving the political and territorial disputes that have plunged relations between the Asian powers to their lowest point in decades.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing opened the meeting with his visiting Japanese counterpart, Nobutaka Machimura, by rejecting Japan's demand that China apologize for allowing protesters to vandalize Japanese diplomatic missions and businesses during three consecutive weekends of demonstrations.
Chinese protesters scuffle with police during an anti-Japan protest near a Japanese-owned department store in Shenzhen, a large city in southern China.
(Photos Vincent Yu -- AP)
"The Chinese government has never done anything for which it has to apologize to the Japanese people," Li said without smiling or shaking hands with Machimura in front of reporters. "The main problem now is that the Japanese government has done a series of things that have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."
Li cited "the Taiwan issue," apparently referring to a recent policy declaration by Japan that left the impression it would join the United States in defending the self-governing island in case of an attack by China. He also mentioned Japan's "treatment of history." Japan on April 5 approved new school textbooks that critics say gloss over atrocities committed by its military in World War II.
But Machimura pressed Li on what he described as "violence toward embassy activities and also toward Japanese people in China." He repeated demands for an official apology, compensation for damages and better security around Japanese institutions.
Machimura also said Japan's policies on Taiwan had not changed and emphasized that his government had already expressed "remorse, regret and apology" several times for its wartime past, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hatsuhisa Takashima, said after the two-hour meeting.
"We are not opposed to any demonstrations, even if the demonstrations are anti-Japanese demonstrations, because we highly appreciate freedom of expression . . . as long as it remains peaceful," Takashima said. "Unfortunately, this time it was not peaceful."
He said "mob scenes" in several cities caused damage to Japanese diplomatic missions and offices, as well as injury to Japanese citizens, and faulted "the lack of adequate security measures" by the Chinese government.
More than 10,000 protesters marched through Shanghai on Saturday, breaking windows at the Japanese Consulate, vandalizing restaurants and damaging cars despite a large police presence. A week earlier, police allowed a similar-size crowd in Beijing to throw rocks and break windows at the Japanese Embassy.
There were no protests in Shanghai or Beijing on Sunday as Machimura began his two-day visit, but demonstrations were reported in the southern cities of Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai, the western city of Chengdu and the northeastern city of Shenyang. There were no immediate signs of violence.
The crowds of protesters, most of them college age, chanted slogans condemning the new Japanese textbooks and urging the rejection of Japan's campaign to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China's ruling Communist Party rarely approves public demonstrations and has described the protests as spontaneous expressions of popular anger at Japan.
But in Beijing, at least, the protesters appear to have been acting with the tacit approval of the government. One of the organizers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said police all but proposed last weekend's march on the Japanese Embassy. He said the government wanted to tap into widespread anti-Japanese sentiment and use the protests to demonstrate there is strong public support for its policies toward Japan.
A party academic, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said some in the government believe the demonstrations strengthen China's hand in its efforts to keep Japan off the U.N. Security Council and in the standoff over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters of the East China Sea.
But he added that there was also concern within the Chinese leadership that the protests might spin out of control and turn against the Communist Party. China has a long history of anti-government demonstrations fueled by nationalist anger, including the protests that helped propel the Communists to power.
Last Tuesday, Premier Wen Jiabao cited the recent demonstrations in declaring that Japan would not be ready for a Security Council seat until it admitted its history of aggression. But his government has since sought to stifle further protests in Beijing, publicly calling for calm and warning against illegal demonstrations.
At local universities last week, party authorities ordered all members to stay away from protests this weekend and to urge their friends to skip them as well, students said. Police then spent the early hours Saturday visiting several university campuses and persuading activists to cancel plans to stage demonstrations that morning, an organizer said.