BEIJING — Japan's foreign minister traveled to Beijing on Sunday to protest anti-Japan demonstrations that have sharply raised tensions between the two Asian powerhouses, but China refused to apologize.
"The Chinese government has never done anything that wronged the Japanese people," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told his counterpart, Nobutaka Machimura. Li blamed the tension on Japan.
The exchange came as protests gripped China for a third weekend over Japan's approval of a textbook that Beijing says whitewashes Tokyo's aggression in WWII. Other grievances include Japan's effort to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, competition for natural gas in the East China Sea and Tokyo's decision to help Washington defend Taiwan.
As many as 20,000 people marched through China's financial capital of Shanghai on Saturday. Hundreds of police looked on as the crowd hurled paint balls and tomatoes at the Japanese consulate, shattering windows and attacking Japanese businesses and cars.
On Sunday, more protests broke out across the country, including in Dongguan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in the south, Chengdu in central China and Shenyang in the northeast. But they were smaller and more peaceful.
Tokyo denounced the demonstrations and demanded that Beijing protect Japanese citizens and diplomatic facilities.
"I wish the Chinese government would sincerely handle this matter under international regulations," Machimura said.
Chinese officials have denied that they have anything to do with the protests, which they say are a spontaneous expression of public outrage.
Japan's demand that Beijing apologize and provide compensation for the damage is unlikely to sit well with the Chinese, who say Tokyo has never sincerely owned up to the crimes it committed during World War II.
"If Machimura is only here to complain and get even, he's not going to solve anything," said Pang Zhongying, an international affairs expert at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. "He should find out why the Chinese people are angry at Japan and try to increase understanding and dialogue. Otherwise relations between the two countries could only get worse."
However, there also are signs that Beijing is trying to lower the temperature for fear the protests might set off unrest directed at the Communist Party.
Security was extra tight in the Chinese capital. Hundreds of paramilitary police guarded the Japanese ambassador's residence. Rumors had been spreading for days about possible protests on Saturday and Sunday in Beijing, including a march past Tiananmen Square, China's political heart. But none occurred.
University students, who made up the bulk of the Beijing protest last weekend, were told to stay home and rely on official channels to resolve the standoff.
The state-run People's Daily published an editorial Sunday stressing the "overriding importance" of maintaining social stability. Although it made no mention of the anti-Japan protests, its apparent intent was to curb unrest.
"Today's world is not placid and there exist frictions and problems of various kinds," the editorial said. "We should cherish and maintain social stability the same way we protect our eyes."
In addition to protests in China, there have been anti- Japan demonstrations in South Korea recently. The gatherings there have focused not on the textbook issue but on a dispute over Dokdo, a group of uninhabited islets. On Thursday, about 50 men fired flaming arrows at the residence of Japan's ambassador to Seoul. Police said the 3-foot arrows did not come close to the house.
The protests have prompted some Japanese-owned businesses in China to close temporarily; the Jusco supermarket chain, which has two stores in Shanghai, shut its doors over the weekend. Japanese tour operators say they have noticed a drop in bookings to China for the Golden Week holiday at the end of this month, and two high schools reportedly canceled exchange trips to China.
But there have been a few counter-demonstrations in Japan, and small acts of vandalism against Chinese targets: a slash of red paint across the ambassador's Tokyo residence, and bullet casings and razor blades mailed to diplomatic buildings in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki. One man set himself on fire Sunday outside the Chinese consulate in Osaka after hurling a bottle of flammable liquid at its gate.
At a rally of about 400 hard-line nationalists in Tokyo, speakers spent most of their time condemning Japanese who do business with China and both North and South Korea.
Declaring that Japan was facing its worst crisis since the war, they directed scorn at the politicians and "wimp bureaucrats" whom they blamed for damaging national unity with weak-kneed responses to the international vilification of Japan.
"Japanese people like losers," said Shinichi Aoki, a truck driver who delivered an impassioned speech directed mostly at Japanese -- not foreign -- listeners. "Japan did not achieve independence from a war: God created Japan. That's why the Japanese sometimes act too kind or spoiled."
Staff writers Bruce Wallace in Tokyo and Barbara Demick in Seoul contributed to this report.