Abe was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
His comments were provided by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga
after the Financial Times said Abe had told reporters that China and
Japan were in a "similar situation" to Britain and Germany before
1914, whose close economic ties had not prevented the conflict.
He also said China's steady rise in military spending was a major
source of regional instability, the newspaper reported.
Suga said earlier in the day that Abe's comments should by no means
be interpreted to mean that war between the two Asian giants was
possible, noting that Abe had said dialogue and the rule of law, not
armed forces and threats, were needed for peace and prosperity in
Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by what Beijing sees as Japan's
failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China in the 1930s
and 1940s, have worsened recently due to a territorial row, Tokyo's
mistrust of Beijing's military buildup and Abe's December visit to a
shrine that critics say glorifies Japan's wartime past.
Suga told a news conference that Abe — noting that this year is the
100th anniversary of the start of World War One — said Britain and
Germany clashed despite their deep economic ties.
Asked if China and Japan might clash militarily, Abe replied that
such a conflict "would be a great loss not only for Japan and China
but for the world and we need to make sure such a thing would not
happen", according to Suga.
China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies
respectively, have deep business ties and bilateral trade that was
worth nearly $334 billion in 2012, according to Japanese figures.
China criticised Abe's historical reference. "It would be better to
face up to what Japan did to China before the war and in recent
history than to say stuff about pre-World War One British-German
relations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news
conference in Beijing.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, on a visit to Beijing
this week, stressed that all sides should avoid unilateral action to
assert maritime claims, and that China should work with its
neighbours to reduce tension in the East and South China seas.
China's Defence Ministry said an air force patrol in the East China
Sea Air Defence Identification Zone, set up by Beijing late last
year despite protests from Japan, South Korea, the United States and
others, had recently encountered several "foreign" military aircraft
and given them verbal warnings.
It did not say which country the aircraft were from, but added that
China had "investigated their identity".
[to top of second column]
NEW YEAR MESSAGE
In a message on Thursday to local Chinese-language papers ahead of
the lunar new year, Abe said Japan had "built a free and democratic
country and taken the path of peace" since the end of World War Two.
"Nothing has been changed in the policy of continuing to uphold this
position," he said, according to a Japanese version provided by the
prime minister's office. "I believe you, who live in Japan, can
understand this fundamental stance of ours."
In his keynote address at the Davos forum, Abe called for military
restraint in the region and took a veiled swipe at China's military
"We must...restrain military expansion in Asia, which could
otherwise go unchecked," Abe said.
"Military budgets should be made completely transparent and there
should be public disclosure in a form that can be verified," Abe
said, adding disputes should be resolved through dialogue and the
rule of law, and not through force and coercion. He did not single
out China by name.
He also defended his visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen
by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism because it honours
leaders convicted as war criminals along with those killed in
China's state Xinhua news agency blasted the Yasukuni visit again on
Thursday, saying it was "taken by all peace-loving nations as a
despicable kowtow to Fascism" and accusing Abe of pushing "regional
tensions precariously close to boiling".
Xinhua added: "While frozen ties with neighbouring countries can
never make Japan a reliable and constructive player in regional and
global issues, sincere repentance over its war past can."
Abe's December 26 pilgrimage prompted a rare statement of
disappointment from Tokyo's ally Washington, which is worried about
rising regional tensions and fears entanglement in any conflict over
tiny, uninhabited isles in the East China Sea that are controlled by
Japan but also claimed by China.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies,; Additional
reporting by Megha Rajagopalan and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; writing
by Linda Sieg; editing by William Mallard and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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