BEIJING (Reuters) - China criticized Japan's newly appointed defense minister for the first time on Monday, saying it was "firmly opposed" to his comments that Beijing has repeatedly engaged in "dangerous actions" in the East China Sea.
Although both countries reached an agreement late last year to reset ties, the comments by China's defense ministry underscore the fragile state of relations between China and Japan.
Relations, which have long been poisoned by what China sees as Japan's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, have deteriorated sharply over the past 18 months because of a dispute over a chain of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
Gen Nakatani, a lawmaker who served in Japan's armed forces for several years, was appointed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late December. Nakatani has held the defense minister's post before and believes Japan should have the ability to hit enemy bases pre-emptively in the face of imminent attack.
Nakatani accused China last week of violating Japan's territorial waters with its vessels in the East China Sea, adding that China had locked fire-control radar on Japan's vessels, set up an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, and "flown its fighter jets abnormally close" to Japanese aircraft.
In a statement on its website, China's Defence Ministry hit back, saying its military activities in the sea and airspace were "completely legitimate".
"The leader of Japan's defense department ignores the facts and keeps on rehashing the same tune, playing up the 'China military threat'," the ministry said. "China is firmly opposed to this."
The ministry reiterated its stance that China had a right to set up air defense identification zone and that it had already clarified to Tokyo on the use of radar.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING and Tetsushi Kajimoto and William Mallard in TOKYO; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)