Japanese riders competing at the second Tour of China have been drawn into a diplomatic row over an uninhabited group of islands in the East China Sea, with the UCI expressing a concern first and foremost for competitor safety.
Sovereignty has provided a rallying point for the Chinese for at least the last 150 years.
The trigger for the tension between China and Japan has been the latest twist in a long-running tug-of-war over the Diaoyo Islands (as known to Chinese) or the Senkaku Islands (as known to Japanese). Already a disputed territory, the islands were nationalised by the Japanese over the weekend when some of the islands were bought by the government from their private Japanese owner. The timing of the sale has proved critical with commemorations taking place on Tuesday for the Manchurian Incident of 1931, when the Japanese invaded the north of China, known as Manchuria. The incident was a catalyst for the revolution of 1949 and the creation of The People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong.
For now, Japanese riders, staff, journalists and photographers have been asked to leave this week's Tour of China, while Chinese badminton players have been withdrawn from a tournament in Japan, according to reports.
"It is true that Japanese were expelled," UCI President Pat McQuaid confirmed to Reuters.
Most notably, Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) had been sitting fourth in the UCI AsiaTour rankings and was a stage winner in the first Tour of China. Nishitani may have started the prologue on Sunday but by Stage 1, he had left the race and so did his chances of climbing the rankings.
Meantime, with the high-profile Tour of Beijing due to begin on October 9, Global Cycling Promotion which runs the event is monitoring the situation closely.
"What matters is everyone's safety and it is true that the situation can become worrying," GCP director Alain Rumpf told Reuters.
The Japanese Embassy has suspended passport services in China for the time being.
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