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Xi Jinping, Abe meet briefly on Apec sidelines … but China and Japan give differing accounts of it

China’s President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have met briefly on the sidelines of a two-day Apec summit in Lima, Peru.

Yasuhisa Kawamura, a spokesman for Abe, said the two Asian leaders “stepped a couple of paces towards each other” after a group meeting of 21 leaders on Sunday morning and the meeting “was a natural movement”.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a one-line statement that Xi had a brief conversation with Abe in Lima “at the invitation of the Japanese side”.

Abe told Xi that Japan was looking forward to two important anniversaries to improve ties between Japan and China, Kawamura said.

These were the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two nations next year and the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty, which falls in 2018, he said.

Abe told Xi that he would like to seek overall improvement in Sino-Japanese ties, said Kotaro Nogami, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, who briefed reporters on the 10-minute meeting.

“While dealing with outstanding issues in an appropriate manner and from a broad perspective, I’d like to forge a stable and good relationship,” Nogami quoted Abe as saying.

In his response, Xi said, “I was impressed with the prime minister’s words. It is important to settle outstanding issues properly and increase popular sentiment toward improving ties,” according to Nogami.

Japan is hosting a China–Japan–South Korea summit before the end of this year and Abe would like to “have a fruitful meeting” with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the Japanese spokesman Kawamura said.

Xi told Abe he would also like to “promote productive discussion and manage pending issues in an appropriate manner and control national emotion and sentiment”, according to Kawamura.

Abe expressed his desire to have Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visit Japan for the trilateral summit, Nogami said.

But Xi gave no clear answer to the request, he said. If Li attends the trilateral summit, it will mark his first visit to Japan since assuming the premiership in 2013.

Japan has been finding it hard to fix a date for the three-way summit in line with the three countries’ agreement last year to hold it in 2016.

The difficulty also stems from uncertainty over the fate of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who is facing growing calls to resign due to an influence-peddling scandal involving her long-time confidante.

Chinese spokesman Lu said in his statement that Xi had expressed China’s stance and principles on the development of Sino-Japanese ties.

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Xi told Abe in September on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China that Japan should “put aside disruptions” to put the countries ties back on a normal track.

September’s meeting marked the two leaders’ first one-on-one talks in 17 months.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained over issues including territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

Additional reporting by Kyodo