BEIJING (AP) -- China on Tuesday labeled Japan a "trouble maker" that is damaging regional peace and stability, firing back at earlier criticism from Tokyo over a spike in tensions in northeast Asia.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was responding to comments by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that China's military expansion in the region is a concern, although Kishida stopped short of calling China a threat.
Hua told a regularly scheduled news conference that China's military posture is purely defensive and Japan is stirring up trouble with its own moves to expand its armed forces and alter its pacifist constitution. She accused Japanese officials of making inflammatory statements aimed at denying or glorifying the country's militarist past, and said Japan should explain its strategic intentions.
"I think everybody will agree with me that Japan has already become a de facto trouble-maker harming regional peace and stability," Hua said.
Hua's comments were the latest salvo in a war of words between the countries that has seen their diplomats invoke the villain from the Harry Potter books, Lord Voldemort, in describing each other's motivations. Never very warm, bilateral ties took a nosedive after Japan in 2012 nationalized a string of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that China claims as its own.
Also Tuesday, the standing committee of China's National People's Congress reviewed a proposal to designate days to commemorate the country's 1945 victory over Japan in World War II and to remember the victims of the 1937 Nanking Massacre, when Japanese troops killed large numbers of Chinese civilians.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the move would reveal Japanese war atrocities while commemorating Chinese people's resistance.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Kishida sought to distance his government from recent right-wing comments on World War II, calling them "regrettable" and saying they don't represent the government's views.
China's growing maritime activities and lack of transparency in military development "are common concerns of the entire region" that Japan will watch closely, Kishida said. Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese attempts to strengthen its claims to the disputed islands by sending ships into waters off the islands and creating a new air defense identification zone that overlaps them.
Asked if he sees China as a threat, Kishida called China one of the most important countries for Japan. "If China develops peacefully, it is a benefit and an opportunity for Japan, and for the region. ... In that sense, I think China is not a threat to our country."
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