VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking in Vladivostok after meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping, said on Wednesday they had agreed to work toward an October visit by him to China, the latest sign of warming ties between the Asian rivals.
Abe also said he and Xi shared the view that Japan and China bore responsibility for world peace and prosperity, as well as the goal of achieving North Korea’s denuclearization.
His comments, made on the sidelines of a regional forum in the east Russian city, were aired on Japan’s NHK public broadcaster.
Abe returned to office for a rare second term in December 2012, promising a hard line toward China in a territorial row over tiny islands in the East China Sea.
But although the dispute simmers, relations have stabilized recently amid intensifying U.S. trade pressure on both China and Japan.
“In response to China’s gracious invitation, I intend to visit China this year, the year in which we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China,” Abe told the forum later.
“After that, I very much wish to invite President Xi to Japan. Through this exchange of visits at the leaders’ level, I hope to raise Japan-China relations to a new stage.”
Japanese media have floated Oct. 23, the date on which the treaty took effect, as the likely timing of Abe’s visit.
Speaking later in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had already issued an invitation to Abe, and both sides were in communication about it.
“We hope both sides can work hard to create a good atmosphere and conditions for the visit,” Geng said at a daily news briefing.
Xi told Abe that Sino-Japanese ties “face an important opportunity for improvement. Under the new circumstances, we should continue to meet each other halfway, maintain the positive momentum and promote the stable development of China-Japan relations to attain even greater expansion (of ties),” according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.
Japanese and Chinese officials have been discussing private sector cooperation in third countries, with China believed eager for Japanese firms to take part in its Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure and trade links between China and Eurasia.
Abe also told the regional forum he hoped North Korea would seize the opportunity to improve ties with the international community but it was “an absolute imperative that we achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.
The White House is looking at scheduling a second meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un following their first summit in Singapore in June.
Abe reiterated his desire to meet Kim himself to resolve the matter of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang’s agents decades ago, but said nothing had been decided.
Reporting by Kazuhiko Tamaki and Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Vladimir Soldatkin, Denis Pinchuk and Polina Nikolskaya in Vladivostok and Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez