TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Thursday brushed off a bristling attack in which a Chinese diplomat branded Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a "troublemaker", saying Beijing's sentiment is inaccurate and ignores the facts.
The rebuttal came after China's envoy to the African Union fired the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter war of words between Asia's two largest economies with a dramatic display of pictures he said showed the results of Japanese atrocities during World War II.
In a press conference held the day after Mr Abe wrapped up a landmark African tour aimed at boosting Japan's presence in Africa, Ambassador Xie Xiaoyan accused him of trying to undermine Beijing's own diplomatic reach.
"Abe has become the biggest troublemaker in Asia," Mr Xie, who is also China's ambassador to Ethiopia, told reporters. "He has worked hard to portray China as a threat, aiming to sow discord, raising regional tensions and so creating a convenient excuse for the resurrection of Japanese militarism," the ambassador said at the news conference.
He said the conservative Japanese leader's visit to Africa was part of what he described as a "China containment policy".
Mr Xie also repeated criticism over Mr Abe's visit last month to the Yasukuni war shrine, which honours around 2.5 million of Japan's war dead, including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.
In Tokyo on Thursday, the government issued a low-key response, with a deputy press secretary of the foreign minister telling reporters Japan had a decades-long record of peace.
"Japan has been contributing to the peace and stability of the region as well as the world for 60 years since World War II," said Koichi Mizushima. "Japan has no intention of containing China. Rather, Japan wants China to be a responsible partner in contributing to peace and stability," said Mr Mizushima.
The response is an increasingly familiar mantra from Tokyo, which says it has repented of its warring past and made reparations for its brutal invasions and occupations of the mid-20th century.
It says Beijing persistently resurrects the issue for domestic political reasons and to distract attention at home from inequalities and the poor state of the environment.
Beijing says Tokyo refuses to accept its responsibility for atrocities carried out in the name of its then-emperor, and says Abe's visit to Yasukuni is evidence.
"The purpose of the (shrine) visit was not to warship war criminals at all.
(Abe) visited Yasukuhi to pledge that Japan will never wage war again," Mr Mizushima said. "The Chinese government criticism... is not accurate."
Since Abe's pilgrimage to Yasukuni last month, China's ambassadors have penned more than 30 opinion pieces in foreign newspapers as part of a global public-relations offensive by Beijing seeking to rally international public opinion against the Japanese prime minister.
In one of the highest-profile exchanges, the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to the UK used the pages of the Daily Telegraph to accuse each other's country of being Asia's Voldemort, the villain from the popular Harry Potter novels.
Sun Cheng, director of the East Asian Research Centre at the China University of Political Science and Law, was quoted by China's state-run Global Times newspaper Thursday saying that the diplomatic push "can be viewed as a new phase of China's public diplomacy".
"Five or 10 years back, it would have been unimaginable if over 30 Chinese ambassadors collectively published articles in the media worldwide."