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China's premier says China-Japan relations improving but fragile

China's Premier Li Keqiang gestures as he speaks at a news conference following the closing ceremony of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - The relationship between China and Japan has improved but still remains fragile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a news conference on Wednesday at the end of the annual meeting of parliament.

Ties between Asia’s two largest economies have been strained by China’s view that Japan has failed to properly atone for its wartime past, as well as by a festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

“There have been some signs of improvement in Sino-Japanese ties, but it’s not fully established yet,” Li said. “It is still fragile.”

“We believe that it is important to adhere to the consensus reached by the two sides on the issue of principle involving history, and it is important to match one’s words with concrete actions,” he added.

While ties have been thawing, with meetings between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing remains deeply suspicious of Japan, especially of Abe’s moves to allow the military to fight overseas for the first time since the war.

China’s foreign minister said earlier this month that there is little reason for optimism that the relationship with “two-faced” Tokyo will improve, though he acknowledged signs of improvement.

Japan has also been keeping an eye on China’s activities in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with several southeast Asian countries. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in February that Japan was gathering and analysing information on China’s moves there with “serious interest”.

Reporting By Jason Subler and Kevin Yao, Writing By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Richard Pullin