Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday demanded that Tokyo "face up to" its wartime atrocities, after violent protests against controversial Japanese history textbooks spread across China over the weekend.
Wen said the demonstrations should also cause Japan to reflect profoundly on its bid to secure a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Though couched in the gentle phrasing of diplomacy, his comments, made to reporters near the end of a four-day visit to India, were the most direct yet indicating China's reservations over Japan's effort to win a U.N. seat.
"Recently we have witnessed large-scale demonstrations and protests in the neighboring countries of Japan, including in China, targeting Japan's attempt to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council," he said. "I think the strong responses from the Asian peoples should make the Japanese government to have deep and profound reflections."
"Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for past histories and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community," Wen said.
Protests have occurred in a number of Asian countries in recent weeks, with demonstrators urging that Japan be denied a permanent U.N. Security Council seat, a position that only Beijing and four other governments now hold.
The anger can be traced back to atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers during World War II, when Japan invaded and occupied large parts of Asia.
The decades-old dispute has flared anew after Tokyo approved new textbooks last week that critics say fail to address the wartime invasions, and such atrocities as forcing Asian women into sexual slavery for soldiers.
"The aggression war waged by Japan inflicted huge and tremendous suffering and hardships on people in China, Asia and the world at large," Wen said Tuesday.
"The core issue in China-Japan relationship is that Japan needs to face up to history squarely," Wen said.
On Saturday, about 1,000 demonstrators threw rocks and broke windows at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing after a rally in the city's university district.
Tokyo demanded an apology for the violence, and asked for increased protection for its citizens living in China.
The row over the books and demonstrations in China threatens to worsen already chilly relations between the two countries.
Despite growing trade and investment between the two countries, bilateral ties are at a low following clashes over disputed islands in the East China Sea, the incursion of a Chinese naval submarine into Japanese waters and exploration of natural gas fields beneath the seabed.