Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso yesterday said that China was becoming a "considerable threat" because of its rising military spending and nuclear weapons, sparking a fresh row between the neighbors.
China is "a neighboring country with 1 billion people and nuclear bombs whose military spending has been growing by two digits every year for 17 consecutive years," 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 (
"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.
Prominent ruling party lawmaker Taku Yamasaki said yesterday he would visit China next month in the hope of holding talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Addressing business leaders later yesterday, 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.