China on Thursday called on Japan to pursue "peaceful development" under its new defence minister appointed this week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's re-election, as tensions simmer over a territorial dispute and wartime history.
Abe on Wednesday appointed Gen Nakatani, 57 to replace Akinori Eto to the defence portfolio after Eto declined reappointment in the midst of a political funding scandal.
Nakatani headed the defence agency -- later upgraded to a ministry -- in 2001-2002 and is said to agree with Abe on the need for Japan to beef up its national security.
"It is our position that whoever serves as the defence minister of Japan, the Japanese side should follow the path of peaceful development," Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, a senior colonel, told a monthly briefing.
Yang also called on Japan to implement an agreement reached in November between the two countries aimed at improving ties which have become increasingly strained in recent years.
The four-point agreement paved the way for the first formal bilateral meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month on the sidelines of the APEC Asia-Pacific leaders' meeting in Beijing.
A tense dispute over control of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but also claimed by China, as well as Beijing's anger over a visit by Abe a year ago to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals from World War II, has soured ties between Asia's two biggest economies.
Abe served as prime minister from 2006-2007 before returning as leader after elections in December 2012.
He has vowed to pursue a nationalist agenda, including seeking to revise Japan's "peace" constitution and wants its military to have the power to come to the aid of allies such as the United States if they are attacked.
The stance has divided opinion at home and raised concerns in China.
"Abe and his new defence minister... need to tread carefully," China's official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.