China and Japan talks ease tensions
China's president and Japan's prime minister have taken a major step in easing more than two years of high tensions with an ice-breaking meeting during an Asia-Pacific conference.
The spat over the uninhabited East China Sea islands has raised concerns of a military confrontation between Asia's two largest economies, which could draw the US into the fray alongside ally Japan.
China also deplores what it sees as Japan's efforts to play down its brutal 20th century invasion of China, a lingering sore point for its 1.3 billion people.
The closed-door meeting between China's Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe of Japan raises hopes that the countries can dial down tensions.
It also burnishes Mr Xi's image as a statesman ahead of a summit of 21 world leaders including US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
China hopes to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to assert its ambitions for a larger leadership role in US-dominated trade structures.
Although core divisions between China and Japan will not be resolved soon, Mr Abe told reporters they have made a "first step" toward reconciliation.
"I believe that not only our Asian neighbours but many other countries have long hoped that Japan and China hold talks," he said.
"We finally lived up to their expectations and made a first step to improve our ties."
Earlier, before heading into a meeting room at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the two men shook hands, but were unsmiling.
Mr Abe could be seen speaking briefly to Mr Xi, who gave no response and looked toward the cameras for the remainder of the handshake.
In a break from the usual protocol, Mr Abe was made to wait for Mr Xi to arrive rather than being greeted by him on arrival.
China's Foreign Ministry also described the meeting as being at Mr Abe's "request", a phrase not used in its reports on Mr Xi's meetings with South Korean president Park Geun-hye and other foreign leaders.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said Mr Xi urged Japan to "do more things that help enhance the mutual trust between Japan and its neighbouring countries, and play a constructive role in safeguarding the region's peace and stability".
The two sides issued a joint statement on Friday agreeing to gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogues and reaffirming the central pillars of their post-Second World War relations.
In the statement, Japan said it acknowledged differing views over the status of the islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japan, a concession likely to please Beijing.
China has long demanded that Tokyo acknowledge that the islands' sovereignty is in dispute, something Japan has refused to do for fear that would open the floodgates to further Chinese demands.
"The meeting marks a turning point in China-Japan relations and lays a good foundation for future developments," said Feng Lei, a professor at the Centre for Japanese Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
"China needs a peaceful and stable international environment for its growth and an overarching antagonism would be detrimental to both sides."