"A neighbouring country has nuclear weapons and its military spending has been rising for 12 consecutive years. That is becoming a considerable threat," Kyodo quoted Taro Aso as telling reporters.
  
Long-chilly relations between Tokyo and Beijing have become fraught this year through disputes over issues mostly relating to Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the early 20th century.
   
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, declined to meet his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of an East Asian summit earlier this month, in a sign of anger at Koizumi's visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which critics say is a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
  
Koizumi, who says his annual visits are intended to honour the war dead and to pray for peace, has repeatedly complained that he cannot understand criticism of his pilgrimages to the shrine.
   
Japan and China are also locked in disputes over natural resources in the sea between them and other issues including the way history is taught in Japanese schools.