Tokyo chides translator over PM Abe's WWI remark

TOKYO - The Japanese government has chided a private interpretation firm over an employee's translation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks comparing Sino-Japanese relations with those in pre-World War I Europe.

The foreign ministry has said Abe's comments during a meeting with international press at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month were embellished, the Asahi Shimbun and the Sankei Shimbun reported over the weekend.

The Asahi said the ministry had cautioned the firm and the translator.

A foreign ministry official told AFP that the ministry has given the firm a performance review, but declined to give details.

Abe was quoted by major media as drawing a parallel between current Japan-China relations and those of Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I, saying they were in a "similar situation".

A transcript of the Japanese remarks does not contain this phrase.

According to an AFP translation of the Japanese remarks, as provided by the chief cabinet secretary, Abe was asked a question about the possibility of conflict between Japan and China.

He replied: "This year marks the 100th year since World War I. At the time, Britain and Germany had a strong economic relationship, but they went to war. I mention this historical background by way of additional comment.

"If something like you suggest were to happen, it would cause serious losses to both Japan and China, but also cause significant damage to the world. We must ensure this will not happen."

The reported remarks were criticised as "inflammatory" by commentators and seized on by China as "anachronistic".

Japan and China are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of disputed islands in the East China Sea, with paramilitary confrontations common as naval vessels and planes lurk in the background.

Bitter memories of the violence visited on swathes of Asia by Japanese soldiers as they ran amok in the years before and during World War II also continue to fuel tensions between the Asian giants.