China and Japan today agreed to work on improving ties and putting a row over disputed South China Sea areas on the back burner, paving the way for their leaders to meet at an Asian-Pacific summit next week.
The nodding agreement comes ahead of an expected ice-breaking chat between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the gathering in Beijing.
Relations between Asia's two leading powers have been soured over the past two years by the territorial row, regional rivalry and the bitter legacy of Japan's wartime occupation of China.
Abe said the two sides were making final arrangements for one-on-one talks, although neither he nor China's foreign ministry confirmed that the talks were set.
"Both Japan and China are coming to the view that it would benefit not just the two countries but regional stability if a summit is held," Abe said on a TV programme.
But in signs that fundamental problems would not easily be resolved, Abe also said there had been no change in Japan's stance on the isles at the heart of the territorial dispute, while China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, urged Japan to properly handle sensitive issues like history and the islands.
"The two sides have agreed to gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogue through various multilateral and bilateral channels and to make efforts to build political mutual trust," the two countries said in statements released simultaneously. The communiques followed a meeting between Yang and Abe's national security adviser, Shotaro Yachi.
The statements said China and Japan also "acknowledged that different positions exist between them" regarding tensions over the islands in the East China Sea and agreed to set up a crisis management mechanism to prevent "contingencies".
Abe, who has not met Xi except to shake hands since taking office in December 2012, has been calling for a one-on-one meeting at the 10-11 November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, while insisting no conditions be set for talks.
China has sought assurances that Abe would not repeat his December 2013 visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead, seen in Beijing as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Such a promise would be hard for the conservative Abe to make, however, and the Japanese leader told the TV show that the agreement did not cover specific issues such as his shrine visits.