Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has landed himself in hot water with comments that the Chinese under Mao Zedong "boiled babies".
Silvio Berlusconi is known for his outspoken remarks
The PM, who is running for election in April, refused to withdraw his remarks when pressed by reporters, saying it was "an historical fact".
But the gaffe has angered China, which is marking the Year of Italy in 2006.
The Chinese foreign ministry has said it is "dissatisfied with such groundless words".
"Italian leaders should use words and actions that are beneficial to stable and developing friendly relations between China and Italy," the ministry said in a statement.
The Chinese embassy in Rome has also expressed its dismay.
Mr Berlusconi is renowned for making outspoken comments.
At the launch of his 2006 election campaign, he told his audience: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."
His comments on Maoist China were first made at a rally on Sunday.
"I am accused of having said that the [Chinese] Communists used to eat children," he said.
"But read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields."
He tried to calm the furore on Wednesday, telling Italian TV: "It was questionable irony, I admit it, because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself."
Romano Prodi, his main opponent in the elections being held on 9 April, said his comments were "unthinkable".
"The damage caused to Italy by an insult to 1.3bn people is by all means a considerable one," he told Italian radio.