Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Rejects Charges Country Lurching Towards Militarism

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's most influential aide on Saturday rejected criticism from China that Japan is lurching towards militarism and said Tokyo would keep seeking dialogue with both Beijing and Seoul.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Rejects Charges Country Lurching Towards Militarism

Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by China's bitter memories of Tokyo's wartime aggression, have worsened since a feud over disputed East China Sea islands flared in 2012. Relations with South Korea are also badly frayed by a separate territorial row and the legacy of Japan's 1910-1945 colonization.

"For the 69 years since the end of World War Two, we have built the present-day Japan based on the notions of freedom, democracy and peace," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who acts as Japan's top government spokesman and is one of Abe's most trusted aides, told Reuters in an interview.

"They say that Japan is a military power but (the defense budget increase in the year to March) was just 0.8 percent, while China has kept increasing its defense budget by more than 10 percent annually for 20 years," Suga said. "To be called 'militarist' by such a country is completely off the mark."

China's announcement late last year of a new air defense identification zone, including the skies over the disputed isles, increased tensions with Beijing, while Abe's December visit to a controversial shrine for war dead seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism further marred Tokyo's ties with its two Asian neighbors, Reuters reported.

Japan's close ally the United States has made clear it is keen to see a dialing down of tensions in the region.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Asia ahead of President Barack Obama's April visit to the region, on Thursday urged Tokyo and Seoul to "put history behind them" and calm tensions in the face of the threat from a volatile North Korea.

Looming large among the issues fraying Japan's relations with South Korea is the question of compensation and an apology to so-called "comfort women", as the women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels are euphemistically known. Many of those women were Korean.

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