Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared current tensions between Japan and China to rivalry between Britain and Germany on the eve of World War One, but his top spokesman denied the Japanese leader meant war between Asia's two big powers was possible.
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.
Abe, speaking to international journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said on Wednesday that China and Japan were in a "similar situation" to that of Britain and Germany before World War One, the Financial Times and BBC reported.
Although the rivals then had strong trade ties, that did not prevent the outbreak of war in 1914, Abe said, adding that China's steady increase in military spending was a major source of instability in the region, the reports said.
He also repeated Japan's call for a military hotline to avert an accidental conflict.