By Duncan Mackay

Japan Open_logoSeptember 18 - China has withdrawn its top badminton players for this week's Japan Open because of the worsening politicial crisis over over an uninhabited group of islands, claiming that they feared for their safety. 

A spokesman for the tournament, the eighth leg of the Super Series event, said China had informed the Badminton World Federation (BWF) last Friday (September 14) that 22 players would not be competing.

The Japan Open, which has a total prize purse of $200,000 (£123,000/€153,000), began today and is due to end next Sunday (September 23).

The BWF redrew the men's singles, women's singles and men's doubles ties after they were informed of the decision. 

"The BWF can confirm the Chinese contingent has withdrawn from the Japan Open," said Thomas Lund, the BWF chief operating officer.

"It is unfortunate but the tournament will go on."

An official of the Table Tennis and Badminton Centre of China's central sporting administration said: "We've quit the Japan Open.

"The decision was to ensure players' considering the intense China-Japan relations these days, we quit."

The withdrawal is linked to an escalating territorial dispute over a small island chain in the East China Sea administered by Japan under the name Senkaku, but vehemently claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.

Anti Japan_protests_in_China_September_18_2012Chinese protestors stage an anti-Japan rally outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing

There have been anti-Japanese protests across China and Japan's Embassy in Beijing has come under siege. 

Earlier today, two Japanese activists landed on one of the islands, which the Chinese Government in Beijing described as provocative and warned it reserved the right to "take further action".

The Chinse players withdrawal opens the door for Malaysia's world number two Lee Chong Wei to reclaim the title, having suffered a shock defeat to China's Chen Long in last year's title match.

"It's unfortunate that China have withdrawn as it will certainly dilute the level of competition," Malaysia's singles coach Rashid Sidek said.

"Chong Wei is our trump card."

With the Chinese out of the men's draw, Chong Wei is seeded first seed, Denmark's Peter Gade second, Simon Santoso of Indonesia third and Japan's Sho Sasaki seeded fourth.

The women's draw is headed by Dane Tine Baun, South Korea's Ji Hyun-sung, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand, and South Korean Yeon Ju-bae.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]