Staff writer

Beijing officials did not make an appearance during a forum held Thursday to celebrate the 20th year of sister-city relations between Tokyo and Beijing, apparently because of Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s recent meeting with Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui.

But that did not faze Tokyo government officials, who simply slipped a revised schedule of events in the printed program.

Sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the forum, held at the Edo Tokyo Museum in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, drew about 80 people and featured discussions on grassroots cultural exchanges between the two cities.

Following Ishihara’s references to Taiwan as a nation state during his meeting with Lee on Sunday, the metro government was notified earlier this week that Zhang Qian-nuo, a Beijing public relations official, would be unable to attend, ostensibly due to scheduling conflicts. Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

Zhang Mao, Beijing’s deputy mayor, could not even send a videotaped speech as originally scheduled.

But besides a short comment of regret, presenters did not address the absence of the Beijing officials, even in a panel discussion on the future of citizen exchanges.

“It was extremely disappointing,” Masashi Kudo, an executive director of the Asian Students Cultural Association, said after the event.

“It’s frustrating when I think of how so many people worked so hard to get where we are today. I hope public figures will be more mindful of how much damage they can do.”

But metro government officials were optimistic that Beijing would come around in time.

“We didn’t want to cancel the event,” said Hideo Kawashima, director of the city’s International Affairs Division. “We want to make sure the message is clear that relations between Tokyo and Beijing will not change,” even if the governor promised more material exchanges between Tokyo and Taipei.

The main issue, he said, is how the city can support citizens’ activities, he insisted.

Referring to the Tokyo-Beijing cultural exchange programs between students, youths, teachers and fans of Chinese literature, Kawashima said, “In these 20 years, it’s really moved beyond the government level.”

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