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Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Friday he has instructed his ministry to review Japan’s official development assistance, including a possible sharp cut in aid to China, itself a donor and the world’s second-biggest economy.

“I have instructed a substantial review of our ODA policy on countries including China in light of (Japan’s) very severe economic situation and the significant changes in the national strength of countries in relation to their economic growth,” Maehara told the Upper House Budget Committee.

“With China overtaking Japan in terms of gross domestic product . . . it is completely inconceivable for Japan, which has been outranked, to increase its ODA,” he said.

Maehara’s remarks were in response to a question by an opposition lawmaker about the veracity of a news report that the administration is considering reducing aid to China.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan backed Maehara’s comment at the same committee session.

Tokyo began extending aid to China in 1979 but stopped providing fresh loans, which comprised the bulk of the assistance, in fiscal 2007.

As of fiscal 2009, loans offered to China had come to ¥3.32 trillion, compared with ¥154.4 billion in grants and ¥170.4 billion in technical cooperation.

In fiscal 2009 alone, ¥1.3 billion was offered in grant aid and ¥3.3 billion in technical cooperation for environmental protection, energy-saving projects and other areas.

The government confirmed last month that Japan had lost its position as the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States, for the first time since 1968, with gross domestic product at $5.47 trillion in 2010, while China’s was $5.88 trillion.

‘Gyoza’ trial nears

Chinese authorities will soon try a man accused of lacing “gyoza” dumplings with a toxic chemical that led to food poisoning cases in Japan, a senior official of Hebei Province said.

Hebei Vice Gov. Zhao Yong, considered a candidate for China’s future leadership, said in Tokyo that the criminal investigation has reached the final stage, and when the trial reaches a verdict, this will be conveyed to Japan.

The defendant is accused of injecting the pesticide methamidophos into dumplings at a food factory in the province, causing 10 people in Japan as well as Chinese consumers to fall ill.

Meanwhile, Zhao, 48, expressed hope regarding Japan’s support for China’s Caofeidian port construction project in Bohai Bay, believed to be one of the world’s biggest such projects.

He also defended China’s restriction on rare earth mineral exports, saying conserving natural resources is necessary for achieving sustained economic growth. The measure does not target any specific country, he added.

China restricted rare earth exports to Japan after the September run-in a Chinese fishing boat and two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats trying to shoo it away from the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Zhao denied speculation that China had detained four employees of Japanese general contractor Fujita Corp. after the maritime run-in in retaliation for Japan’s arrest of the trawler’s captain. He claimed the arrest of the four was coincidental and had nothing to do with the sea clash.

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