Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said on Thursday that China's military build-up was a threat, given its lack of transparency, triggering an angry retort from Beijing, which said his comments were "highly irresponsible."
"A neighboring country has an atomic bomb and its military spending has been rising for 12 consecutive years. There is no transparency and I view that as a concern, a threat," Aso told at a news conference.
But a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tokyo's position was that it did not see the Chinese military as a "direct threat," meaning it did not expect an invasion by Chinese troops.
Beijing reacted angrily to Aso's remarks.
"China sticks to a path of peaceful development," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told.
"It is highly irresponsible for the Japanese foreign minister to make these remarks. We can't help but ask his real purpose for expressing such a groundless sentiment," Qin said, adding that China's development had contributed to peace and stability, which benefited its neighbors, including Japan.
Asked about Aso's comments, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe stopped short of explicitly labeling China a threat.
But Abe said he agreed with Aso's message that China needed to show more transparency with its military spending, adding that in this regard, his views and those of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did not differ much from Aso's thinking.
"I think minister Aso made his comments based on a view that securing transparency at a time when (China's) military spending has shown double-digit increases in recent years would lead to trust among foreign countries toward China," Abe said.
The flap over Aso's comments may cast a pall over Japan-China talks on United Nations reforms that the Japanese Foreign Ministry said would be held in Beijing on Monday.
Japan has stepped up a decade-old drive to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council but has struggled to gain sufficient support, and has faced opposition from Asian neighbors including China, Reuters reports.