BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes that Japan continues down the “path of peace”, the defense ministry said on Thursday, in Beijing’s first direct reaction to the appointment of a new Japanese defense minister who has a desire for a stronger pre-emptive strike capability.
“We believe that no matter who leads the Japanese defense ministry, the Japanese side ought to uphold walking down the path of peace ... and make efforts to promote the development and improvement in bilateral ties,” ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a monthly news briefing.
Gen Nakatani, a lawmaker who served in Japan’s armed forces for several years, 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.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a stated goal of a stronger security profile for Japan that includes passing a law in 2015 to reinterpret its pacifist constitution.
This would allow the country to come to the aid of an ally and pave the way for its troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.
China’s ties with Japan 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.
China’s anger over the past is never far from the surface of relations that deteriorated sharply over the past 18 months because of a dispute over a chain of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
Ships from both countries shadow each other around the islands and Japan has scrambled jets numerous times in response to Chinese aircraft, raising fears of a clash.
Relations had also been affected following Abe’s visit last December to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors war criminals among Japan’s war dead.
But both countries, mindful of the economic stakes, reached agreement last month to try to reset ties.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Edmund Klamann