Japan's Abe Heads to China Vowing to Lift Ties to ‘New Level’

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Xi said such changes offered the two countries the chance to expand cooperation given their increased "common interest".

"Switching from competition to collaboration, I want to lift Japan-China relations to a new era", the Japanese leader said, according to a translation by Kyodo News.

"Our two countries have been making continuous efforts to improve relations", Mr Abe said before flying to Beijing Thursday, expressing his hope that the visit would "lift bilateral relations to a new level". "As countries with great influence in the region and the world, we should safeguard free trade". "Now that relations between the two countries have returned to a normal track, we would like to achieve win-win outcomes by stably developing our ties in the long term", Li said, emphasizing that there would be a particular focus on economic and trade cooperation.

On Friday, Abe is scheduled to hold separate meetings with Li and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Li said 500 business agreements worth £14 billion had been signed between Chinese and Japanese companies during the visit, displaying the "bright future" for cooperation between both sides.

Japan this year terminated four decades of government assistance to China, considered by some as a type of reparations for the damage caused during its invasion and occupation.

"Though the United States is quite an influential factor in China-Japan ties, the effect is limited", the Global Times newspaper said in an editorial.

Diplomatic observers said the spat between China and the United States provided an excuse for Beijing to get closer to Tokyo, but said that tensions between the two could still erupt.

Efforts in advancing China-Japan ties should "persevere unremittingly to prevent the appearance of new twists and turns" so that previous efforts did not go to waste, Mr Li at a joint briefing with Mr Abe.

For years, Tokyo and Beijing have been mired in a territorial row over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

China claims the Japanese controlled islets are part of its territory and the move sparked a wave of protests across the country and anti-Japanese sentiment.

In May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang became the highest profile Chinese leader to meet Japan's Emperor Akihito in nearly a decade.

He declined to give details about the leaders' discussions on the territorial dispute, human rights and other sensitive issues. Leaders of India and Japan are set to discuss the Indo-Pacific at length, including matters related to connectivity and infrastructure, as well as the political and security situation in the region during the summit.

Mr Li said both sides had agreed that as major countries, China and Japan should uphold free trade and accelerate talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and on a China-Japan-Korea trade zone.

The unlikely warming of relations between the two countries began in September 2017 when Abe became the first Japanese leader in 15 years to attend the Chinese embassy's National Day celebrations.

"Their concern is if relations continue to worsen there's going to be an American market and a (separate, closed) Chinese market. which will add to the cost of business of Japanese companies", he said.

"With the development of China, the time has come for China and Japan to contribute to the world".

But he has since softened his rhetoric as the issue of North Korean denuclearisation brought the two countries closer, with Abe calling on China to put pressure on North Korea.