The foreign ministries of Japan and China exchanged undiplomatic rhetoric on Thursday. Relations between the two countries have been tense for more than a year and the latest comments are not likely to help improve them.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, regarded as a hardliner toward Beijing, on Thursday repeated his concerns about the lack of transparency in China's burgeoning military budget.
Mr. Aso says China is beginning to be a considerable threat.
He also added that having a neighbor with one billion people equipped with nuclear bombs fans anxiety in Japan.
The foreign minister's remarks Thursday were in reaction to a recent comment by the head of Japan's main opposition party, who termed China's military expansion a threat.
China's Foreign Ministry was quick to react to Mr. Aso's statement, with spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing calling it highly irresponsible.
Mr. Qin says Beijing would like to know Mr. Aso's real motive in raising what the Chinese spokesman says is groundless rhetoric about a Chinese threat.
Later in the day, Japanese foreign ministry officials tried to downplay Chinese concern about Mr. Aso's remark. Spokesman Akira Chiba says the Japanese foreign minister is not attempting to provoke China.
"They reacted to the Japanese press and not the Japanese government. And I would like them to react not to the press but to the government," he said. "What he [Aso] said is basically what he already said in his policy speech that he gave earlier this year."
A Japanese government spokesman on Thursday said that Prime Minister Koizumi's views do not differ much from Mr. Aso's. However, the spokesman did not directly echo the foreign minister's remark, which explicitly labeled China a threat.
China is Japan's top trading partner. But diplomatic relations have been chilled because of disputes relating to Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the early 20th century. Many Chinese believe Japan has not shown appropriate remorse for its militarist past.
Further straining ties is a bitter dispute over gas reserves in the East China Sea.