TOKYO (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund confirmed on Wednesday that China's central bank governor will not lead the Chinese delegation at the IMF's semi-annual meeting this week, in what appeared to be a snub to host Japan.
The IMF cited Zhou Xiaochuan's schedule for his failure to attend but the decision follows a deterioration in relations between China and Japan over their competing claims to sovereignty of some islands in the East China Sea.
The row has been marked by violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products in China. Japanese car makers, including Toyota Motor, later reported a tumble in auto 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 will represent him." Zhou had been set to deliver what amounted to a closing keynote lecture on Sunday.
The IMF comments confirm a report on Tuesday by Chinese state news agency Xinhua that China's delegation will not be led by its most senior finance officials.
According to Chinese protocol, only the most senior officials usually lead such trips, but the report said China's deputy central bank governor and vice finance minister would be leading the central bank's delegation instead.
The disputed group of islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are located near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil and gas reserves. Taiwan also asserts its sovereignty over the islets.
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 event, making it one of the world's largest international conferences.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton)
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