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BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday that it hoped the entry into service of Japan's second big helicopter carrier, the Kaga, did not mean a return to the country's past militaristic history.

The ship, along with its sister the Izumo, gives Japan's military greater ability to deploy beyond its shores as it pushes back against China's growing influence in Asia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that in recent years Japan had exaggerated the "China threat" as an excuse to expand its military.

"I also want to say that the Kaga was sunk by the U.S. military in World War Two. Japan should learn the lessons of history," Hua told a daily news briefing.

"We hope the return of the Kaga is not trying to be the start of the ashes of Japanese militarism burning once more."

Japan's two biggest warships since World War Two are potent symbols of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to give the military a bigger international role. They are designated as helicopter destroyers to keep within the bounds of a war-renouncing constitution that forbids possession of offensive weapons.

Ties between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, have been plagued with a territorial dispute over a group of tiny East China Sea islets and the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression.

(Asia's leading carriers: http://tmsnrt.rs/2mTDkli)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Reuters