BEIJING — China and Japan reached agreement to ramp up high-level contacts, the strongest indication yet of a possible meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
The Chinese and Japanese foreign ministries said the two sides agreed to "gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogues." China froze high-level contacts more than two years ago amid a dispute over uninhabited East China Sea islands and other contentious issues.
No meeting has been announced, though Xi and Abe are widely expected to at least hold some kind of tete-a-tete during the summit Monday and Tuesday. It's unclear what form that meeting would take or whether anything substantial would be discussed.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a meeting between the two leaders had not been finalized, but an environment for talks had been achieved.
"Until now the door was closed, unfortunately, but this agreement has achieved a momentum," he said on BS Fuji television.
"I believe everyone wants us to put an end to tensions between Japan and China," Abe said. "It would be extremely significant for us to show the rest of the world our efforts to fulfill our responsibilities for the region's peace and prosperity."
In a statement on its website, China's Foreign Ministry said the sides acknowledged their "different positions" on the islands, called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan. That implied a degree of compromise on both sides. Japan has refused China's demand to acknowledge that the islands' sovereignty is in dispute, but Friday's announcement indicated that Tokyo was at least willing to concede that different views exist.
China, for its part, appeared to have compromised on demands for a resumption of dialogue.
The announcement followed a meeting in Beijing between Chinese Vice Premier Yang Jiechi, the government's senior foreign policy adviser, and Abe's special envoy, National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi, who was dispatched to Beijing on Thursday.
According to the Foreign Ministry statement, the sides agreed to hold dialogue and consultation to prevent the island dispute from further deteriorating and to establish crisis management mechanisms to avoid contingencies.
Japan's Foreign Ministry issued an identical statement in Japanese.
Top White House official on Asian affairs, Evan Medeiros, said the U.S. very warmly welcomed the agreement by Japan and China to improve relations, particularly on crisis management.
He told reporters in Washington that a stable relationship between the two largest economies in East Asia was essential to regional peace and prosperity.
China was incensed by Japan's move to nationalize the islands in 2012, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests and prompting the government to send patrol boats into waters surrounding the islands to confront Japanese coast guard vessels. China also strongly objected to a visit last year by Abe to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine honoring the nation's war dead, including executed war criminals.
Along with sparking fears of an armed confrontation, the dispute has been blamed for an almost 50 percent reduction in Japanese investment in China during the first half of the year.
Along with demanding that Japan recognize the island dispute, China had been pushing for a commitment from Abe not to visit Yasukuni, seen by Chinese as a monument to Japan's 20th century aggression against China and other Asian nations.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.