BEIJING: China called on new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday to meet Beijing "halfway" to try and improve relations that have been hurt by a debilitating territorial dispute.
"We hope the new Japanese administration will meet the Chinese side halfway and make concrete efforts to overcome difficulties in bilateral relations," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.
She added such efforts were needed "so as to push bilateral relations back on to the normal track of development".
Hua was speaking after Abe was selected Wednesday as Japan's prime minister by the lower house of parliament following victory by his Liberal Democratic Party in elections earlier this month.
"We are ready to work with the Japanese side to push forward the steady and sound development of bilateral relations," Hua said.
China and Japan are at odds over small islands in the East China Sea that both claim, though Japan controls. China calls them the Diaoyu Islands, while Japan refers to them as the Senkaku Islands.
Tensions have mounted this year, with Japan recently scrambling fighter jets after a Chinese plane flew near the territory.
Hua reiterated China's position on the dispute, calling the Diaoyu Islands "China's inherent territory," while adding that Beijing wants to resolve the dispute "through dialogue and negotiation."
"The pressing task for Japan now is to show sincerity and take concrete actions to overcome the current situation and improve bilateral relations."
Separately, China's official Xinhua news agency carried a commentary expressing hope that Abe's election could herald the beginning of better relations.
"It is hoped that Abe... could view Japan-China ties from a long-term and overall perspective and steer Tokyo's diplomacy toward the consolidation of regional peace and stability," the commentary said.
It emphasised the important economic relationship between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, respectively, and noted that Abe wants to improve Japan's slumping economy.
"For an export-oriented economy like Japan, to regain growth means strenuous work to bolster its stagnant domestic market and expand overseas trade as well," Xinhua said.
"However, the prospect would be something hard to come by should Tokyo choose to play with fire amid simmering tensions not only with China but also with other neighbours like South Korea and Russia."