BEIJING Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso Wednesday that ties between their nations are important for both, opening talks likely to also cover North Korea's threats to hold another nuclear test.
China last week slammed the nationalist Japanese prime minister for making a ritual offering of a potted tree at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, seen by Beijing as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
But meeting Aso on the first day of his two-day visit to Beijing, Wen struck a milder note. Stable and friendly ties between the two neighbors "suits the fundamental interests of the people of both countries," he told Aso in opening remarks with reporters present.
Wen said problems between the two countries should be handled "prudently and appropriately," Chinese state radio reported.
But their effort to send a hopeful message about economic cooperation appeared likely to be drowned out by North Korea's threat to stage more nuclear and missile tests, ratcheting up regional tensions.
In their remarks with reporters present, neither leader mentioned North Korea. But Japan's NHK television reported that the two were likely to discuss Pyongyang's threat.
Aso said earlier that swine flu was also likely to feature in his meetings with Chinese leaders.
His trip comes as Japan and China, the world's second and third-biggest economies, respectively, seek to fight the fallout from the global financial crisis.
The visit also follows North Korea's April 5 launch of a rocket seen by Tokyo, Washington and Seoul as a ballistic missile test and Pyongyang's subsequent vow to boycott multilateral talks on ending its nuclear programs.
Ties between the Asian neighbors and rivals chilled during Junichiro Koizumi's 2001-2006 term as Japanese premier, largely over his visits to Yasukuni, which honors millions of war dead, including some convicted as criminals by a post-World War Two tribunal.
Diplomatic relations have improved since then and Koizumi's successors including Aso have avoided pilgrimages to the shrine.
But controversies over Japan's handling of World War Two memories continue to affect ties, and mutual mistrust remains deep among citizens of the two countries.
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Bill Tarrant)