Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are to hold their first summit next week, reports said Friday, after presiding over two years of animosity between Asia`s two biggest economies.
The countries have "agreed to arrange a summit next week" in Beijing on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Japan`s national broadcaster NHK said.
Private network Fuji TV had a similar story.
"Now that we have a shared understanding toward a summit meeting, we will start making concrete arrangements for it," a Japanese government source was quoted as telling the broadcaster.
Abe, who appeared on a news programme Friday evening, was cautious, saying only that the two nations were working toward a top-level meeting.
He added that Tokyo would raise the idea of a maritime communication mechanism over disputed East China Sea islands "if the summit were to take place".
"Unfortunately, the door has remained shut until now," he said. But "we have set up an environment conducive to opening the door".
The US State Department said it would "welcome" any measures by the two countries that "outlines agreed steps to improve relations".
Tokyo has long been pressing for a meeting but Beijing has resisted, with the two sides locked in a territorial dispute and also still at odds over World War II history.
As a condition for the meet, China, which has painted Abe as a dangerous historical revisionist, had reportedly been demanding that he swear not to repeat a visit to a Tokyo shrine that honours fallen soldiers, including a number of war criminals.
It has also been calling for Japan to acknowledge the existence of a dispute over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which it calls the Diaoyus, where paramilitary vessels from both sides have sparred over recent years.
Japan has until now rebuffed the calls, but similarly worded statements from both countries issued on Friday suggested there had been some accommodation on the thorny island issue.
"The two sides have acknowledged that different positions exist between them regarding the tensions which have emerged in recent years over the Diaoyu Islands and some waters in the East China Sea," an English-language statement from the Chinese authorities said.
It added that they "agreed to prevent the situation from aggravating through dialogue and consultation and establish crisis management mechanisms to avoid contingencies".In what appeared to be a reference to Abe`s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, the statement said: "In the spirit of `facing history squarely and looking forward to the future`, the two sides have reached some agreement on overcoming political obstacles in the bilateral relations."
China has repeatedly called on Japan to "face history squarely", while Tokyo frequently urges Beijing to look to the future.
Neither side`s official pronouncements made any reference to a summit, while a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry website said: "As for the issue of contact between the Japanese and Chinese leaders, we hope Japan will continue to move in the same direction as China."
Japan should "take practical steps and make efforts towards improving bilateral relations, to create the necessary environment for the two leaders to have contact".
Speaking earlier Friday, Japan`s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted Tokyo would not compromise on points of principle -- the disputed islands and a pledge to stay away from the shrine -- but said there needed to be dialogue.
"Our country`s stance has not changed," he said, according to Jiji Press news agency.
"Because there are various issues between the countries, it is important for their leaders to talk frankly."
The conciliatory statements came as Abe prepares to head to Beijing, where he will be among heads of government gathering for APEC.
It also comes after weeks of intense, but low profile, diplomacy between senior Chinese figures and Japanese political grandees, culminating in a meeting in Beijing between the head of the secretariat of Japan`s National Security Council and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi.
Abe made brief contact with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang last month at an international gathering in Italy, followed by other meetings between senior officials of both countries and a visit to China by a major Japanese business delegation.