TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a ceremony Thursday marking the anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and China as well as China’s national day, in a display of his intent to improve delicate relations between the Asian neighbors.
Abe was the first Japanese leader to take part in the annual ceremony in more than a decade. He said he hoped Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Japan at the earliest possible date.
Abe said stronger ties between Japan and China benefit the two countries and also are indispensable for peace and stability in Northeast Asia “given the current situation” in the region, referring to the escalating nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Abe’s attendance on a busy day on which he dissolved the lower house of parliament for snap elections was seen as a gesture of his willingness to improve ties. Many Chinese deeply resent Japan over its brutal occupation of much of their country in the 1930s and 1940s and tensions spiked in 2012 amid a dispute over East China Sea islands held by Japan but claimed by China.
On Friday, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang exchanged congratulatory messages to mark the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties in a further sign of a desire to repair relations.
Li said he hopes Japan can “meet China halfway to safeguard the political foundation of their bilateral ties, properly manage and control their contradictions and differences, and promote the steady improvement and development of their relations,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
China’s national day is Sunday.
Beijing welcomed the attendance of Abe, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties is “of great significance” in bilateral relations. He expressed hope that Japan sees it as an opportunity to draw lessons from history and look to the future and improve ties “in a correct direction.”
Abe told Chinese and Japanese guests that he hopes to visit China and intends to host a Japan-China-South Korea summit by the end of this year as part of deepening relations with Beijing.
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi
Find her work at https://www.apnews.com/search/mari%20yamaguchi