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China lashes out at Japan over reported insult

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BEIJING — A senior Chinese official lashed out at Japan’s foreign minister for a reported insult Thursday, saying a planned meeting between leaders of the two countries intended to smooth over recent tensions was uncertain.

China broke off ministerial-level contacts with Japan after Tokyo detained a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands. Japan eventually released the captain and said this week that the two sides were trying to set up formal talks between their leaders on the sidelines of a regional summit next week.

But Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hu Zhengyue called that meeting into question Thursday, saying any talks would require "appropriate conditions and atmosphere" and that Tokyo didn’t seem ready.

Japanese media have quoted Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara as saying that Beijing’s reaction to the territorial dispute was "hysterical." Hu characterized the comments as "provocative" and an attack on China.

Relations between the two nations have been strained since the collision near the islands in the East China Sea called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Tensions subsided after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan held an impromptu meeting during an Asia-Europe summit. But in recent days, sometimes violent rallies in several Chinese cities protesting Tokyo’s claim to the islands have threatened to reopen hostilities.

"We hope the Japanese side will meet the Chinese side halfway and use concrete actions to demonstrate its sincerity to improve bilateral relations instead of saying or doing something that’s contrary to this goal," Hu said.

The Oct. 28-30 Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit will bring together the group’s 10 member nations as well as Japan, China and South Korea.

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