Japan on Thursday warned against rushing to the conclusion that Chinese dumplings behind a health scare here were intentionally poisoned, following allegations of politically motivated sabotage.
A senior Chinese official on Wednesday said the frozen dumplings, which sickened at least 10 people in Japan, may have been poisoned by people opposed to friendly ties between the two countries.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura distanced Tokyo from the remark, saying the Chinese side was also "yet to reach a firm conclusion."
"It would be better not to specify the cause when we have not completed a full investigation," Machimura, the top government spokesman, told a news conference.
Japan and China have been working since 2006 to repair political relations which had hit rock bottom amid a row over Tokyo's past imperialism and a territorial dispute. Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to pay a rare visit to Tokyo early this year.
The suggestion of a political motive behind the health scare was made by Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, to a Japanese government mission on Wednesday.
"We cannot deny the possibility that a small group of discontented elements who do not wish for the development of China-Japan friendship may have taken extreme measures," he said.
He did not say whether the culprits were Chinese or Japanese.
Despite the Japanese government's cautious stance, outspoken Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe on Tuesday suggested the poisoning may have been deliberate.
China, Japan's largest trading partner and its second biggest supplier of imported food, has been hit by a string of scandals over its products, raising fears for the massive manufacturing industry behind its soaring growth.
Thousands of Japanese people have said they felt ill after eating frozen meat dumplings produced in China, with the health ministry confirming that 10 of them suffered pesticide poisoning.