BEIJING - The Chinese and Japanese governments will work together to improve bilateral relations as Beijing and Tokyo get ready to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of ties between the two countries next year, their leaders agreed on Monday.
President Hu Jintao and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed the intention during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
According to a news release issued by the Foreign Ministry after the talks, Hu told Noda that China-Japan relations witnessed "a positive momentum of development over the past year ... and seen a good start since the new Japanese cabinet took office in September".
Tensions flared up after a collision between a Chinese trawler and Japanese coast guard vessels near the Diaoyu Islands in September 2010.
This is Noda's first official visit to China since he took office in September.
He is also the first prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to visit China since the DPJ became the ruling party in September 2009.
Neither of his two DPJ predecessors had arranged an official visit to China during their short tenures.
Noda said he hoped that both sides could seize the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties to promote high-level exchanges and beef up economic, trade, environmental, finance and tourism cooperation.
Yutaka Yokoi, press secretary of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Sunday night after Noda's meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao that a Chinese leader would visit Japan in the first half of 2012 to celebrate the anniversary.
Tokyo and Beijing have decided to expand their youth exchange program in 2012 to around 5,000 people, Yokoi added.
Noda has called himself a "son of Japan-China exchanges" as he was among the group of 3,000 Japanese youth to visit China in 1984, a milestone in ties between Beijing and Tokyo.
President Hu Jintao was then chairman of the All-China Youth Federation, which was in charge of receiving the Japanese delegation.
Also, Noda asked Wen on Sunday to lend two giant pandas to a zoological park in Sendai to cheer up the northern Japanese region as it recovers from the tsunami and earthquake disaster in March.
China gave a pair of pandas to Japan in 1972 to commemorate the normalization of bilateral relations. In 2000, China leased a pair of pandas to another Japanese zoo, sending good wishes to Japan following the 1995 earthquake that devastated the city of Kobe.
Other moves to improve relations in 2012, Yokoi said, range from promoting maritime cooperation in the East China Sea to financial cooperation, including the Japanese government's proposal to invest in Chinese government bonds.
Feng Zhaokui, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said "the bond purchase, people-to-people exchanges and the proposal to lease pandas show that the Japanese government is not only talking about but taking tangible moves to improve ties".
Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japan studies at Tsinghua University, said Koda's visit is a "Christmas present" for Beijing-Tokyo relations and "sets the tone for the 40th anniversary".
"The relationship indeed improved last year, with more top-level meetings on the sidelines of international summits. One of these signs was talks between high-ranking diplomats on crisis management in the East China Sea, which reflects trust on both sides."
A major task of the 40th anniversary campaign is to plant the seeds of trust deeply in the minds of the peoples of the two nations, Liu said.
"He (Noda) said that the 1984 visit was so impressive, the Chinese people and leaders were so friendly to the Japanese, and he will never forget it."
Noda kicked off his China visit on Sunday. He left Beijing on Monday for home and will start a three-day official visit to India on Tuesday.