A senior PLA general and "princeling", usually seen as a hawk, struck a moderate tone as he urged fellow countrymen to heed the words of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and settle conflicts with Japan peacefully.
General Liu Yuan, political commissar of the General Logistics Department of the People's Liberation Army, sounded a note of caution amid increasingly heated discussion over the Diayou Islands, the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea claimed by Beijing but administered by Tokyo.
"The friendship between people in China and Japan is everlasting," he said on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing.
"Using peaceful means to sort out conflicts between the two sides is the wisest way for the issue, which is the wisdom we - as the younger generation of comrade Deng Xiaoping - should be in possession of," said Liu, considered a party "princeling" as his father, Liu Shaoqi , was head of state between 1959 and 1968. Liu said seizing the chance for peaceful development should be Beijing's overriding priority.
Liu's comments come in the wake of reports last month about an essay he wrote on the subject, which received conflicting interpretations in the media. In the essay, Liu argued that the nation should do its utmost to safeguard the hard-won, peaceful environment it had secured for its own development. Some domestic and overseas media interpreted that as a call to prepare for possible warfare.
It came as other military hawks took a tough stance against Tokyo, which was ramped up after the Japanese government bought the Diaoyus, known to Japan as the Senkakus, from their private owner last year.
New Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly highlighted the importance of winning a war in various on-the-ground visits since taking over as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in November.
But Liu said Beijing and Tokyo should focus on co-operation and development. "There are many ways other than war to have problems settled," he said. "For a country, fighting a war should be the last of all choices."
In the 1980s, Deng advocated a policy of dealing with territorial disputes with Japan by "shelving differences and seeking joint development" and urged the country to "keep a low profile, never take the lead and bide your time".
Liu appeared to be in good form and looked healthy yesterday, brushing aside widely circulated online speculation that he had been seriously ill before receiving treatment at the PLA General Hospital in Beijing, better known as the No301 hospital, in March last year.
Two independent sources close to the PLA said Liu had been diagnosed with lung cancer many years ago, and had undergone at least two operations.
In June, Liu made a public appearance for the opening of the 301 Hospital's branch in Sanya , Hainan province, a move intended to clear speculation over his health.
Liu had long been regarded as a hawk, especially in view of a preface he wrote in a friend's book in 2010. In the foreword to Change Our View of Culture and History, he lashed out at the party leadership and called for the rejection of foreign models and a return to a supposed upright military heritage.