BEIJING - Beijing on Thursday accused Japan of seeking to "smear" it after Tokyo said a Chinese frigate locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese warship, as the Asian giants are locked in a maritime row.
The world's second- and third-largest economies are at loggerheads over uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Tokyo and called Diaoyu by Beijing, which claims them.
Asked to respond to Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera's description of the radar incident as a "threat of force", Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "Recently Japan has been hyping up crisis and deliberately creating tension to smear China's image.
"This move is counter to the improvement of relations," she told reporters at a regular briefing.
"The current problem is not China being assertive but about Japanese ships' and airplanes' repeated illegal activities in the airspace and waters of the Diaoyu islands, which undermine China's territorial sovereignty."
The long-running row over the islands intensified in September when Tokyo nationalised part of the chain, triggering fury in Beijing and huge anti-Japan demonstrations across China.
Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the islands and both sides have scrambled fighter jets, though there have been no clashes.
It is believed the chain - which is also claimed by Taiwan - may sit atop vast mineral reserves.