Shinzo Abe confirmed on Wednesday his plans to visit China this year in what would be the first trip to the country by a Japanese prime minister since 2011, the latest sign of warmer ties between the two rivals.
“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 said in a speech at an economic forum in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.
“After that, I very much wish to invite President Xi to Japan,” said Abe, speaking after meeting China’s leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the forum.
“Through this exchange of visits at the leaders’ level, I hope to raise Japan-China relations to a new stage. I am firmly determined in this regard.”
Japanese media have suggested that Abe’s visit would be timed to the anniversary of the Sino-Japanese friendship treaty signed on October 23, 1978.
Abe and Xi have met numerous times over the last few years on the sidelines of international events.
However no Japanese prime minister has paid an official visit to China since 2011 and no Chinese president has visited Japan since 2010.
Abe praised his meeting with Xi, saying they held “highly significant talks regarding Japan-China relations and the various issues that we face together.”
A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman, Takeshi Osuga, said the two leaders “shared their determination to promote bilateral relations and to make progress on all fronts.”
Relations between China and Japan soured in 2012 over a territorial dispute over several tiny islands in the East China Sea.
Upon returning to power in 2012, Abe took a firm position on Japan’s claims to the disputed island chain, aggravating tensions with Beijing.
But he has since softened his rhetoric and called on China to press North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programmes.
Japanese businesses have also voiced desire for closer ties with China to boost trade.