TOKYO • Japan's Premier yesterday said his country's relationship with China must move away from an "excessive focus" on the past, during a meeting with a top Beijing envoy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the remarks to State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the highest-ranking Chinese diplomat to make an official trip to Tokyo for several years.
His visit signals a possible thaw between the world's second and third largest economies, despite territorial disputes and tensions.
During the meeting, Mr Abe told Mr Yang that "Japan has an unshakable history as a pacifist nation", and has learnt lessons from its past, according to Mr Hiroshige Seko, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary.
"We must build future-oriented Japan-China relations, rather than keep an excessive focus on the unfortunate past," Mr Seko quoted Mr Abe as telling the Chinese diplomat.
Japan-China relations - long terse over Beijing's belief that Tokyo has yet to seriously atone for its wartime atrocities - plunged in 2012 following Tokyo's nationalisation of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Beijing also takes issue with Mr Abe's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine.
Ties have improved more recently, but there are still flare-ups.
Japan lashed out last week at Unesco's decision to inscribe documents related to the Nanjing Massacre in its Memory of the World register, following a request from Beijing.
Mr Abe "expressed that he regrets the registration of the Nanjing incident", and said improvement of public sentiments towards each other is a key to advancing bilateral relations, according to Mr Seko.
Mr Yang reiterated China's "officially stated positions", he said.
Despite the disagreements, Mr Seko put a positive spin on the meeting, describing it as "warm and friendly", in line with attempts by Mr Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to gradually improve their relations.
Mr Abe told Mr Yang that Japan and China share responsibility to keep peace in the region, and voiced his wishes to meet Chinese leaders at international meetings, such as the G-20, Mr Seko said.
On the summit between Japan, China and South Korea that may take place as early as this month, Mr Abe said he hopes to see fruitful achievements by the joint efforts of the three countries, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.
Mr Yang supported Mr Abe's views on regional stability and said he "took note" of Mr Abe's enthusiasm in improving bilateral ties.
On Tuesday evening, Xinhua quoted Mr Yang as saying Sino-Japanese ties had been improving.
"The Chinese government attaches great importance to China-Japan ties and is willing to maintain dialogue and contact with Japan.
"China would like to cooperate closely with Japan to boost bilateral ties in a spirit of drawing lessons from history and facing up to the future," he added, according to Xinhua.