China's navy on Tuesday denied, in a roundabout way, that it snubbed Japan by not inviting it to join in a naval fleet review as part of an international symposium, saying the two events had never been linked in the first place.
U.S. officials have said the United States was invited to join the parade of ships as part of activities linked to the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, which is being held this month in Qingdao, an eastern port city.
Japan said it would participate in the regular symposium, but confirmed it had not been invited to the fleet review.
But China's navy appeared to dispute the view that the fleet review had been scheduled as part of the symposium, in a statement on its official website.
The fleet review and a multinational naval drill had both been organised to celebrate the founding day of China's navy, it said.
"This joint naval drill is not an activity within the framework of the symposium, but to mark the founding day of the Chinese navy," the statement said, referring to what it called foreign media reports about Japan not being invited.
"For this, China invited countries participating in the symposium, and also countries not participating were invited to send ships," it added. It gave no further elaboration.
In any case, the fleet review has been cancelled because of the "special situation and atmosphere" surrounding the continuing search for a Malaysian airliner that went missing last month, with 239 aboard, on its way to Beijing, the navy said.
China's ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.
Deteriorating relations have been fuelled by an increasingly ugly row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising fears of a clash.
Ties have further worsened since China's creation of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine honoring war criminals among Japan's war dead.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Li Hui