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Abe, Xi meet in Vladivostok as bilateral ties improve

Combined file photo shows Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Kyodo)

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks on Wednesday amid a recent thaw in bilateral relations that have often deteriorated due to issues related to territory and history.

Both Abe and Xi, who last met in Vietnam in November last year, are visiting the Russian Far East port city to attend an annual international forum.

On the economic front, Abe and Xi are expected to reaffirm the importance of free trade amid growing concerns that an escalating trade war between the United States and China would hurt the global economy.

The Japanese and Chinese leaders are also expected to discuss ways to lay out specific projects of cooperation in third countries related to the Xi-led "One Belt, One Road" cross-border infrastructure initiative.

On regional security, Abe and Xi are expected to discuss cooperation to prod North Korea to take concrete steps toward denuclearization. China is a traditional ally of the North and Xi has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times this year.

The Japan-China summit comes amid a deadlock in denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea following their leaders' historic summit in June.

In recent years, Japan-China ties have been marred by a dispute over islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing. They are called Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Tensions escalated especially after the Japanese government under the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan led by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda effectively put the group of uninhabited islands under state control in September 2012.

But Japan-China relations have shown signs of improvement as the two countries marked the 40th anniversary this year of a friendship treaty. Abe is looking to visit China later this year.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan in May, the first visit by a Chinese premier in seven years, to attend a trilateral summit also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae In.

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