The Chinese and Japanese prime ministers held an impromptu meeting in a hallway at a conference in Europe, in the highest-level contact between the countries since a bitter territorial dispute erupted a month ago, both governments have confirmed.
Relations between the Asian neighbours - the world's second and third-biggest economies - have been strained since a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels in early September near the islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both countries as well as Taiwan.
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan met briefly in Brussels, where both were attending the Asia-Europe Meeting and agreed to improve their ties.
"Both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time," said a statement posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Despite the continuing thaw, both sides remained firm on the territorial dispute: The statement said Mr Wen reiterated that the uninhabited islands - called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan - belong to China, while Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that Mr Kan said they were Japanese territory.
In Tokyo, Mr Kan's office confirmed that the two met for about 25 minutes and said Mr Kan is returning to Tokyo after skipping the second day of the summit.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the two met sitting on chairs in a hallway. The meeting was not on any public schedule.
"Improving relations is good for Asia, for Japan and China, and especially for the global economy," Mr Sengoku told a news conference in Tokyo.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Mr Kan said he and Mr Wen agreed "on the need to return to that starting point and move forward from there", according to public broadcaster NHK.
The collision and Japan's detention of the fishing boat captain plunged relations to their lowest level in five years, although last week ties appeared to be heading back on track.