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China will slip from the top of Japan’s yen-loan recipient list for fiscal 2003, as Tokyo plans to reduce aid to the country by 20 percent from the previous year to about 96.7 billion yen, according to a Foreign Ministry report unveiled Wednesday.

It is the first time for Japan’s official development assistance to China to fall below 100 billion yen since 1990, and the figure is less than half the fiscal 2000 amount, when roughly 214 billion yen in ODA was provided.

ODA projects pledged in the current fiscal year will be implemented from the next fiscal year, which starts April 1.

This is also the first time China’s ODA loan repayment topped the amount of fresh aid to the communist nation.

Japan’s ODA to China has rapidly decreased in recent years, partly due to mounting public criticism of Beijing’s huge military outlays at a time when the nation is enjoying rapid economic growth.

India will replace China as the largest recipient of Japanese ODA, receiving about 120 billion yen. Japan will provide the second-largest amount — 104.6 billion yen — to Indonesia, officials said.

Foreign Ministry officials explained the details at a joint policy panel on diplomacy of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

During Wednesday’s regular news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that, while China has enjoyed economic growth in recent years, Japan still needs to provide aid to help some of its poor inland regions.

“The figure has been cut due to its economic growth, but there are still those in need (of aid),” Fukuda said.

However, most LDP lawmakers at Wednesday’s joint panel voiced criticism, with some even urging the government to stop providing ODA to China, which last year man

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