Japanese foreign minister calls China a threat

China's expanding military budget represents a danger and is fueling suspicion among other nations, Kyodo News agency quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying Thursday. "It's a neighboring country with nuclear bombs, and its military expenditure has been on the rise for 12 years. It's beginning to pose a considerable threat," Kyodo quoted Aso as saying.

The Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the comments, which Kyodo said were made in a briefing to reporters. Relations between Japan and China have deteriorated rapidly in recent years, and the two countries are feuding over interpretations of World War II, exploitation of maritime resources and territorial claims.

Aso's reported comments would represent an unusually clear expression of Japanese government unease with China's military rise. That also matches U.S. concerns about Chinese secrecy surrounding its military spending.

"China is fanning threat and anxiety," Kyodo quoted Aso as saying. "The content of China military expenditures is difficult for outsiders to know, and that fuels suspicion." The reported comments come after several years in which Japan's Defense Agency has listed China's military expansion as a top security concern in the region. Aso's statement could further fan troubles between the two countries. Beijing, for instance, has objected vociferously to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a Tokyo war shrine that critics consider a glorification of Japan's conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

The tensions have blocked a formal summit between the leaders of the two nations since 2001. China recently snubbed Koizumi at the East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, urging Tokyo to properly atone for its wartime past.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao tried earlier this month to ease concerns about his country's booming economy and growing military, saying that a rising China will benefit the entire region, reports the AP. I.L.

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