BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece on Tuesday criticised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in unusually harsh terms, denouncing the leader for comparing the Asian rivals' tensions to the British-German relationship before World War I.
"Abe's outright distortion of truth and blatant smearing of China using his gangster logic is proof of Japan's refusal to recognise its depraved history of imperialist aggression, expansion and colonial domination," the People's Daily wrote in an editorial.
"Abe is wrong, but he sought foundation from pre-WWI history like a hungry man (who) is not choosy about his food," it added.
The stinging editorial was re-published in English by the official news agency Xinhua, a clear sign that the authorities wanted it disseminated to an international audience.
It comes amid an escalating war of words between the Asian neighbours, who have feuded over Japan's wartime past as well as over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
During a meeting with reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Mr Abe was asked a question about the possibility of conflict between Japan and China.
At the time Mr Abe was quoted by major media as drawing a parallel between current Japan-China relations and those of Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I, saying they were in a "similar situation".
A transcript of the Japanese remarks does not contain this exact phrase and Tokyo later claimed that his comments had been embellished by a translator.
According to an AFP translation of the Japanese remarks, as provided by the chief cabinet secretary, Mr Abe replied: "This year marks the 100th year since World War I. At the time, Britain and Germany had a strong economic relationship, but they went to war. I mention this historical background by way of additional comment.
"If something like you suggest were to happen, it would cause serious losses to both Japan and China, but also cause significant damage to the world.
We must ensure this will not happen."
The newly-appointed chairman of Japanese state broadcaster NHK, Katsuto Momii, later triggered further controversy by publicly stating that the system of sexual slavery used by Japan's imperial army during World War II was "common in any country at war".
His comments were followed by an uproar over remarks by another senior NHK official, Naoki Hyakuta, who dismissed as "propaganda" historical accounts of the Nanjing massacre.
Estimates vary as to the number of people killed and raped during the brutal assault, but no mainstream historians dispute that it took place.
The Japanese government has distanced itself from both NHK officials' remarks but has declined to denounce them.
"The Japanese right-wing politicians' bungling acts are like performances by clowns occasionally happening on the great stage of history," the People's Daily wrote.
"People have to take a more vigilant attitude toward them, as they are trying to falsify history, challenging human conscience and confronting justice. It is very dangerous." The paper likened Japan to "an unrepentant, fully armed criminal returning to the community" and appeared to issue an ominous warning.
"If Japan refuses to walk out of the voodoo circle it has drawn for itself and stubbornly sticks to defying international justice by conjuring historical illusions, we will keep it company to the end," it wrote.
"However, if it has to be this way, it will be an end that causes tremendous miseries for the entire Japanese nation."