TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday rapped China over violent anti-Japan demonstrations in the country last year, while expressing eagerness to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries and South Korea.
"It was wrong as a country responsible to the international community to (allow) damage to Japanese-affiliated companies and Japanese nationals in order to achieve a political goal," Abe said at a press conference, criticizing Chinese authorities for failing to rein in protests after the Japanese government's purchase of part of the Senkaku Islands from their Japanese owner.
Abe reiterated that Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan for decades but claimed by China, is "not negotiable" and vowed to "resolutely protect Japanese territory."
At the same time, Abe said he hopes to improve ties with China, saying that attacks on Japanese businesses and people in China "not only harm the two countries' bilateral ties but also inflict significant negative damage on China's economy and its society."
Japan's purchase of three of the five main islands in the Senkaku group, known as Diaoyu in China, in September sparked anti-Japan protests in China, some of which escalated into vandalism, arson and looting targeted at Japanese factories, stores and restaurants in the country.
Responding to Abe's remarks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry blamed Japan for deterioration in bilateral ties.
"The current difficulty in China-Japan relations was completely caused by Japan," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a press conference in Beijing. "Japan should show sincerity, face up to the reality and properly handle relevant issues with China,"
Speaking at the press conference in Tokyo, Abe vowed to boost security and economic cooperation with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The prime minister is to visit Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia next week on his first overseas tour since regaining the premiership in late December.
"My visit to the ASEAN countries will be crucially important," he said. "Promoting ties between Japan and ASEAN countries will contribute to the region's stability."
Abe said he will take the trip as an opportunity to convey "his ideas on foreign policy toward Asia."
His visit will follow Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida's tour of three Southeast Asian nations -- the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei -- and Australia.
On the relationship with South Korea, with which Japan also has conflicting sovereignty claims over a group of islets in the Sea of Japan, Abe said he wants to "build a relationship of trust as early as possible" with President-elect Park Geun Hye.