The IMF said yesterday that China’s central bank governor would not lead the Chinese delegation at the IMF’s semi-annual meeting this week, in what appeared to be a snub to host Japan.
Zhou Xiaochuan’s (周小川) failure to attend the meeting comes after relations between China and Japan have slumped to their worst in years over their competing claims to the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan.
The row has been marked by violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products in China. Japanese car makers later reported a tumble in sales in the world’s biggest car market.
“We were informed two days ago that Governor Zhou’s schedule might require him to cancel his lecture in Tokyo,” an IMF spokeswoman said. “It has now been confirmed that his deputy, Yi Gang [易綱], will represent him.”
Zhou had been set to deliver what amounted to a closing keynote lecture on Sunday.
“The Tokyo meeting is an extremely important international summit,” Japanese Finance Minister Koriki Jojima said at a press conference. “It is deeply regrettable that the representatives of the [Chinese] authorities are not participating.”
The IMF comments confirm a report on Tuesday by Xinhua news agency that China’s delegation would not be led by its most senior finance officials.
Japan is scheduled to host the IMF and World Bank annual meetings for the first time in nearly half a century. About 20,000 people are expected to attend the events, which end on Sunday, making it one of the world’s largest international conferences.
Tim Condon, head of Asian research at ING, said Zhou’s absence was a way for Beijing to express its displeasure over the islands row.
“It’s very symbolic and attention-grabbing, but doesn’t really inflict any economic harm,” he said. “It would be very easy for China to escalate the matter if they wanted to and inflict economic damage.”