China has warned the United States to tread carefully and avoid encouraging a rise Japanese nationalism that could further throw the region’s stability off balance.

Responding to remarks by the US defence secretary, China’s ambassador in Washington Cui Tiankai said the US should be concerned about increasing Japanese nationalism and insisted Japan was “clearly” the one acting provocatively towards its neighbors, reports Reuters.

“The US side should stay alert against the recent provocative actions taken by Japanese political leaders,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Cui as saying, alluding to the controversial visits by Japanese lawmakers to the Yasukuni war shrine, which also sparked harsh reactions from Seoul.

“We hope that other parties do not lift up rocks for the Japanese, and we hope even more that these rocks don’t end up falling on their own feet,” Cui said.

The warning comes in response to remarks by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel stressing Washington’s opposition to “any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administrative control” of the Senkakus, which falls under the US’ security treaty obligations.

Tensions flared after hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended the ministerial visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which China and South Korea said reflects Japan’s “anachronistic understanding of history”.