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Anti-Japanese protests swell in size in China

BEIJING—Anti-Japanese protests swelled to their largest size yet in China on Sunday as relations between the two Asian powers continued their downward slide.

Japan's foreign minister, here for talks with his Chinese counterpart, called for an emergency meeting between the countries' two top leaders, both of whom will be in Indonesia later this week.

But the Chinese government did not respond to the request, and the likelihood of a face-to-face meeting seemed dim. Leaders of the two countries haven't met in any sort of formal summit since 1999 and do not talk to one another by phone.

Tens of thousands of protesters burned Japanese flags, tossed bottles and hurled paint at shops selling Japanese goods in Shenzhen, a boom industrial city near Hong Kong. A day earlier, mobs tossed bottles through windows of Japan's consulate in Shanghai, vandalized Japanese-made cars and smashed several Japanese restaurants.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura arrived in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, but his request for an apology for weeks of anti-Japanese protests was met with a fierce diplomatic chill.

"The Chinese government has never done anything for which it has to apologize to the Japanese people," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Machimura at an opening session.

Japanese actions have "hurt the feelings" of Chinese, Li said, referring to schoolbook revisions in Japan that critics say whitewash that nation's wartime aggression against China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi both plan to attend a summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, later this week between Asian and African nations. But the leaders of East Asia's two most powerful nations are likely to drift through the summit without a face-to-face encounter.

A spokesman for Japan's Embassy in Beijing, Ide Keiji, said Japanese and Chinese leaders don't even talk informally by telephone despite worsening tensions.

"Koizumi can talk to (President George) Bush by telephone, but Koizumi never calls Hu Jintao," the spokesman said.

China is now Japan's largest trading partner, surpassing the United States, and thousands of Japanese companies have set up factories and stores in China.

But diplomatic tensions between China and Japan are freighted with historical issues, as well as an underlying rivalry over leadership of East Asia. China also has come out sharply against a bid by Japan to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council if it expands from 15 to 24 seats.

Despite potentially large economic costs, China's leaders have given largely free rein to protesters, even orchestrating them and allowing access to anti-Japan sites on the Internet.

On April 9, riot police stood by as thousands of protesters hurled bottles, rocks and eggs at Japanese diplomatic installations in Beijing.

Protests since then in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang have grown increasingly vandal-prone, with rampaging protesters smashing facades of Japanese restaurants, trashing Japanese cars, tearing down advertising of Japanese products and assaulting Japanese citizens.

Protesters in Shanghai on Saturday tried to pull two Japanese from a police cruiser, where they were seeking protection, shattering the windows and injuring them lightly, Keiji said.

Anti-Japanese protests have also rocked South Korea, and one of the regional lightning rod issues is the possibility that Koizumi may again visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that houses the remains of war dead, including at least a dozen war criminals.

Japan declines to assure its neighbors that Koizumi will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine this year, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

"He (Koizumi) will consider about future visits to Yasukuni in the appropriate manner," a spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Hatsuhisa Takashima, said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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