YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Chinese Finance Minister Xiao Jie skipped a trilateral conference with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on Friday to attend an emergency domestic meeting, a senior Japanese finance ministry official said.
The Japanese official told reporters at a ministry press briefing that Xiao’s absence was not related to any diplomatic matters, adding that Xiao was expected to attend the Japan-China finance dialogue in Japan scheduled for Saturday. He did not elaborate on the nature of the minister’s emergency meeting.
The Chinese-minister’s non-attendance came as commodity prices took a beating, and Chinese stocks fell to three-month lows as concerns about tighter financial regulations weighed on banking shares.
At the trilateral meeting, the finance leaders agreed to resist all forms of protectionism, taking a stronger stand than G20 major economies against the protectionist policies advocated by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The senior Japanese finance official said he did not see any diplomatic implications from Xiao’s absence, saying the minister was likely to arrive in Yokohama Friday evening.
“I don’t think this is rude,” the official said, when asked about Xiao’s absence.
“I heard an emergency meeting was called and the Chinese finance minister had to attend,” he said. “We can understand the situation. We don’t see any deeper diplomatic meaning to this.”
Xiao will join a bilateral Japan-China finance dialogue scheduled for Saturday, in which the two sides are expected to discuss their economic cooperation, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said earlier on Friday.
An official in the news department of China’s Ministry of Finance confirmed to Reuters that Xiao had missed the trilateral meeting, which took place on Friday morning, but that he had departed for Japan in the afternoon. The ministry official did not say why Xiao missed the meeting.
Officials at South Korea’s finance ministry could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The trilateral meeting was held on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank’s annual gathering in Yokohama, eastern Japan. China’s increasing presence in infrastructure finance and the threat that poses to Japan’s economic influence in the area are expected to be a topic of debate at the conference.
A Japanese Ministry of Finance official said the Chinese delegation was represented by its deputy finance minister and a senior official from the Chinese central bank at the trilateral summit where finance officials from the three countries met and pledged to resist protectionism.
In an attempt to reduce the region’s vulnerability to dollar swings, Japan also proposed forming $40 billion in bilateral currency swap arrangements with Southeast Asian nations that would allow it to provide yen funds in times of financial stress.
“We agree that trade is one of the most important engines of economic growth and development, which contribute to productivity improvements and job creations,” the finance leaders and central bank governors of the three nations said in a communique issued after their meeting.
“We will resist all forms of protectionism,” the communique said, keeping a line that was removed - under pressure from Washington - from a G20 communique in March when the group’s finance leaders met in Germany.
The talks came amid escalating tensions in North Korea, which moderated some of the optimism policymakers held over Asia’s economic outlook.
While the meeting’s communique said Asian economies were expected to maintain “relatively robust growth,” it warned remaining downside risks meant policymakers would require all necessary tools to achieve strong growth.
China has positioned itself as a supporter of free trade in the wake of Trump’s calls to put America’s interest first and pull out of multilateral trade agreements.
Japan has taken a more accommodative stance toward Washington’s argument that trade must not just be free but fair.
China’s economy showed signs of slowing in April as authorities step up their battle to cool the overheated property sector and slow credit growth to rein in financial risks.
Analysts have predicted China’s economy would slowly lose steam in coming months after a strong first quarter, when it expanded by a faster-than-expected 6.9 percent.
Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto in Yokohama, Kevin Yao and Elias Glenn in Beijing and Soyoung Kim in Seoul; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Sam Holmes