A veteran Chinese diplomat called on Tokyo to think carefully about whether it regarded China as a friend or a threat as he took part in a meeting in Japan intended to improve badly frayed ties.
Retired state councillor Tang Jiaxuan said both China and Japan needed to "reaffirm their understanding of each other" to determine if the other side was a partner or a threat, and had an "urgent need" to resolve historical and territorial disputes.
"It is regrettable that there are fewer people in Japan taking China as an opportunity, but rather spreading noise of a 'China threat' and demonising China.
"Whether this is in line with objective conditions and the interests of Japan is worth deep introspection by the Japanese," he said.
Tang said Sino-Japanese ties had reached their "most severe condition" since they were normalised in 1972, and he criticised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni war shrine in December and his handling of territorial disputes for the worsening relations.
"Hyping the threat theory and even saying China is attempting to change the status quo by strength, and intentionally creating tensions is an irresponsible act of playing with fire."
He was talking as head of the Chinese side of a bilateral New Japan-China Friendship Committee in a meeting attended by senior public and business figures from both nations in the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
The committee was composed of scholars, experts and former officials of both nations. Tang's address was the first meeting of the committee since their exchanges were suspended in 2012, after Japan nationalised a cluster of islands also claimed by Beijing in the East China Sea.
Observers said Tang's remarks were a warning to Tokyo.
"There are more Japanese believing China is a threat, and it will be a serious problem for bilateral ties if Tokyo shifts its strategic perception of China," said Professor Lian Degui of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
Tang's two-day trip comes a month after a delegation of Japanese lawmakers held meetings with senior officials from the Chinese Communist Party, aimed at containing the rising tensions between the two countries.
But the two nations still clashed at a regional security summit in Singapore last week, during which Abe vowed to offer the "utmost support" to Southeast Asian countries locked in maritime disputes with China.
Tang said Tokyo's attempts to consolidate military alliances with other nations would lead to more trouble. But he also struck a positive note, saying the two nations needed to enhance mutual trust and that their current difficulties were "only temporary".