Figure skating: Japan considers Cup of China pullout

TOKYO Sun Sep 23, 2012 6:49am EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's figure skaters will pull out of next month's Cup of China in Shanghai unless given cast-iron safety guarantees, the Japan Skating Federation (JSF) said on Sunday.

Japan and China are embroiled in an escalating political crisis over a disputed group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

"The safety of the athletes is the most important thing," JSF president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters after a meeting to discuss Japan's participation in the November 2-4 competition.

"If they acknowledge this we will make every effort to send a team."

For that, she said, top-level security for the Japan team, which includes Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Daisuke Takahashi, must first be promised by the Chinese organizers.

"If the situation remains the same a week or 10 days before the event then we will have no choice but to pull out," Hashimoto said.

China withdrew its badminton players from last week's Japan Open as tempers flared over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Japan pulled out of the second leg of the Asian Sevens Series in Shanghai over security fears, while a Japanese cycling team were booted out of a race in China.

The Japanese government's decision to nationalize some of the islands sparked protests across China, some turning violent, while Japan's embassy in Beijing came under siege.

The row escalated on the anniversary of Japan's pre-war invasion of its giant neighbor and relations between Asia's two biggest economies have continued to deteriorate.

(Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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