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Abe, Xi vow to boost regular, close communication amid thaw in ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during their talks in Osaka on June 27, 2019. (Pool photo) (Kyodo)

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Thursday that the two countries will boost "regular and close" communication to tackle regional and global issues as "major powers," in another sign of a thaw in bilateral relations.

As for the situation of the Korean Peninsula, Xi, who just met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week, expressed strong support for an improvement in ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang, a senior Japanese government official told reporters.

To promote reciprocal visits by leaders of the two nations, Abe and Xi confirmed that they will work together to realize a trip by the Chinese president to Japan as a state guest next spring, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said.

"It is a good idea for me to visit Japan next spring," Xi told Abe at the outset of their meeting on the sidelines of the two-day Group of 20 summit in Osaka from Friday, pledging to make efforts to build a "new era" of Sino-Japanese ties.

Xi, who arrived in Osaka earlier in the day, is making his first visit to Japan as China's president to attend the summit, but he is not a state guest this time.

His remark came after Abe invited the Chinese head of state to make a trip to Japan as a state guest "when cherry blossoms bloom."

Abe told Xi that Japan is eager to cooperate with China to elevate oft-strained relations between the two nations to a "new dimension," adding that bilateral ties have "completely returned to a normal track."

As "eternal neighbors," Japan and China will try to deepen confidence with each other and develop relations, although they have remained at odds over several issues including maritime security in the East China Sea.

During their meeting, Abe and Xi -- the first Chinese head of state to travel to Pyongyang in 14 years -- exchanged views on North Korea's denuclearization, as negotiations between it and the United States have been stalled.

Xi said that he had told Kim about Abe's thinking on North Korea, according to Nishimura. But the senior official declined to comment on whether Xi touched on the possibility of a Japan-North Korea summit.

While Abe had indicated a future summit with Kim would not be possible without a guarantee of progress, he said in early May, "I myself need to face Chairman Kim without conditions."

Amid a tit-for-tat tariff war with the United States, Xi called for Japan's cooperation to tackle trade protectionism, taking an apparent jab at U.S. President Donald Trump, whose "America First" agenda contrasts sharply with globalization.

Abe, however, urged Xi to rectify what the United States and other market-oriented countries regard as Beijing's unfair trade practices such as alleged intellectual property and technology theft by Chinese firms.

Xi is likely to meet with Trump on Saturday for the first time in around seven months, with businesses and markets set to watch whether the leaders of the world's two biggest economies can avoid a further escalation of their trade dispute.

Abe also asked Xi to take measures to protect human rights, saying that Japan has supported "open and free" Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" policy, as the territory has been in political turmoil over a controversial extradition bill.

In Hong Kong, demonstrations have continued, with protesters seeking the complete withdrawal of the bill, which critics say could bolster the influence of communist China and erode liberties in the former British colony.

The Japanese prime minister, meanwhile, requested Xi to improve the unstable situation in the contested waters, Nishimura said, adding the two leaders agreed to work to move ahead with a 2008 bilateral accord on joint gas development there.

The last visit to Japan by a Chinese head of state was made by Hu Jintao in November 2010. He attended a Yokohama meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

China-Japan tension intensified after the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe's predecessor, decided in September 2012 to bring the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea under state control.

The Senkakus, called Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

The relationship between the two nations appears to have changed recently, with last year's 40th anniversary of the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship serving as an incentive to forge better ties.

Beijing has also been attempting to improve relations with its neighbors, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, led by the Communist Party.

Xi is scheduled to stay in Osaka for three days through Saturday. He last visited Japan in 2009, when he was a vice president of China.

==Kyodo

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