BEIJING (AFP) - China has slammed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for telling a US newspaper that Beijing had a "deeply ingrained" need to challenge its neighbours over territory, state media said on Friday.
Abe, visiting the United States for talks with President Barack Obama, told the Washington Post in an interview published Thursday that Beijing uses disputes with Japan and others to shore up its domestic support.
The Japanese leader's trip comes as tensions between the Asian giants escalate over rival claims to a group of small islands in the East China Sea that the Chinese call the Diaoyus and the Japanese refer to as the Senkakus.
China's confrontational stance risked eventually harming its economy and scaring off foreign investors, Abe added.
"Such behaviour is going to have an effect on their economic activity at the end of the day," the paper quoted him as saying.
"In the case of China, teaching patriotism (is equivalent to) teaching anti-Japanese sentiment," he added.
Beijing fired back, with foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying Chinese officials were "shocked" at the comments, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
"It's rare that a country's leader would brazenly distort facts, attack its neighbour and instigate confrontation among countries in the region," it quoted Hong as saying.
China was demanding a clarification and explanation over the comments, he added.
Japan administers the uninhabited islands, though China and Taiwan also claim them. The dispute has simmered for decades but tensions spiked last year after the Japan nationalised islets in the chain it did not already own.
China responded angrily, with violent street demonstrations damaging Japanese businesses and property, with some Japanese citizens reporting being harassed and physically attacked.
Beijing and Tokyo have both scrambled jets to ward off moves by the other side and fishing boats and government maritime ships have played cat-and-mouse in the vicinity of the islands.
Earlier this month, Tokyo alleged that a Chinese frigate locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer in what it characterised as a dangerous escalation. Beijing denied the charge.
Abe is due to meet Obama on Friday. Japan and the United States have a security treaty and Washington stations some 47,000 troops in Japan.