BEIJING — China has canceled a ceremony scheduled for this week to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan in anger over Tokyo’s claims to a disputed cluster of islets in the East China Sea.
"Due to the current situation, the Chinese side has decided that the reception commemorating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations will be postponed until an appropriate time," the official New China News Agency reported Sunday, quoting an unnamed official of the Chinese People’s Assn. for Friendship With Foreign Countries.
The agency left open the possibility that the reception, originally scheduled for Thursday, would be held at an "appropriate time."
Chinese officials are angry over the Japanese government’s plans to buy three of the islands -- called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese -- in a move that would effectively nationalize the property. The island chain lies between Taiwan and Okinawa and has been contested for more than a century.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei at a regular briefing on Friday hinted that the reception would be canceled. “Due to Japan's erroneous action of illegally buying the Diaoyu Islands, many plans have been ruined, and many activities have been affected at present,” he said.
The proposed sale by the three islands' Japanese owners has unleashed spasms of anti-Japanese sentiment throughout China, where tens of thousands participated in often-violent protests. Japanese-owned factories and stores were looted, Japanese-model cars torched and overturned, and banners were displayed reading "Kill the Japanese."
The Chinese government, which initially encouraged the demonstrations, has since clamped down. However, protests continued over the weekend in Taiwan, which also lays claim to the islands, while several hundred Japanese nationals marched Saturday in Tokyo in front of the Chinese Embassy.
Masafumi Iida of Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, said that most Japanese were shocked by the extent of the violence in China and concerned about the long-term impact on diplomatic relations.
"These riots were more severe than what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve seen demonstrators throw stones at the Japanese Embassy, but not attacks like this against Japanese businesses and people," said Iida. "This is not in the interest of either country. Japan needs a stable relationship with China, and China with Japan."
Despite the angry rhetoric, both Beijing and Tokyo appear to be taking some moves to back away from the conflict. Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted coast guard officials saying Sunday that Chinese patrol boats had moved farther away from the islands over the weekend. Chinese Communist Party officials from the international department are going ahead with a previously planned visit to Tokyo next week, the agency also reported.
Photo: An angry Taiwanese demonstrator tramples on a paper-made doll of Lee Teng-hui, former Taiwan president known for his pro-Japanese political stance, during a demonstration in Taipei on Sunday over a territorial dispute over an island group in the East China Sea. Lee drew fire after telling a Japanese magazine in September that the disputed archipelago belongs to Japan. Credit: Mandy Cheng / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.