Dec 22 6:04 AM US/Eastern
Japan's foreign minister has said China is becoming a "considerable threat" because of its increased military spending and nuclear weapons, in comments that have sparked a fresh row between the neighbors. China is "a neighboring country with one billion people and nuclear bombs whose military spending has been growing by two digits every year for 17 consecutive years," Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters.
"And the content of that is extremely unclear. If I say what this means, I recognize that it is becoming a considerable threat," he said.
Aso, an outspoken hawk appointed in late October, made the comment when asked about the recent remark by Seiji Maehara, the conservative head of the main opposition Democratic Party, that China is a "realistic threat".
"As Mr Maehara put it, it is true that (China) is stirring up a threat and worries," he said.
China reacted angrily, saying its economic might was benefiting Japan.
"As a foreign minister, to so irresponsibly incite such groundless rhetoric about a China threat, what is the purpose?" foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing.
"China's development has made commonly acknowledged contributions towards the world's peace and stability, bringing East Asian countries, including Japan, great development opportunities," he said in Beijing.
Aso's remarks came just after the release of a new Chinese government paper reiterating that Beijing intends to become a peaceful world power.
Relations have been badly strained of late, with Beijing angry over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates war criminals among the war dead.
China, which was invaded and bloodily occupied by Japan before and during World War II, says the pilgrimage shows Tokyo does not fully regret its militarist past.
Japan and China are also bitterly divided over gas reserves in the East China Sea, with Tokyo planning a major increase in patrols in the disputed area.
But China, with its vast labor pool and rising middle class, remains Japan's top trading partner. Data released Thursday showed Japan's trade surplus rising in November for the first time in eight months, with demand from China fuelling Japan's economic recovery.
Prominent ruling party lawmaker Taku Yamasaki said Thursday he would visit China next month in hopes of holding talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who declined to meet Koizumi at two recent regional summits.
Addressing business leaders later Thursday, Aso said Japan wanted to be the leader in Asia, where China's influence is steadily growing.
"Japan is the first country in Asia to complete a number of achievements: modernization, democratization, realizing a market economy, suppressing rising nationalism and closing the gap between rich and poor," Aso said.
"As a democracy and market economy, Japan together with the United States has the power to be a stabilizing force," he said.
Koizumi's government has taken an increasingly hard line with China this year as Beijing moved to scupper Japan's hopes of getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Beijing argued that Japan must show more regret for the past before it is admitted to the council, where China is the only Asian country with permanent membership and veto power.
China saw some of its biggest rallies in years in April to protest Japan's Security Council bid and its approval of a history textbook that makes only passing reference to Japanese atrocities in the 20th century.
Replace the words in the story: "China" with "Germany", and "Japan" with "France" or "Britain" and see if it reminds you of another era.
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
The Chinese are building up their military dramatically. Japan, being in the region and a potential enemy of China feels the need to build up their military in response. What we are seeing is the start of a major arms race between these two nations. There really isn't anything surprising about it. And China could have avoided all of this if they hadn't started building up a military that reflected an offensive posture throughout the region.
Most feel the Chinese buildup is actually directed at becoming more on par with US abilities. However, I imagine their neighbors are very suspicious of their intent, as they should be. At least it appears the Japanese are getting themselves in gear. If the SHTF in that region, at least we'll have a capable ally.
Cold War in the Pacific, here we come!