• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s national security adviser, Shotaro Yachi, and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, have agreed to work together toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the Foreign Ministry said amid an apparent warming in inter-Korean ties.

During talks in Beijing, Yachi and State Councilor Yang also confirmed the importance of turning the East China Sea into a sea of “peace, cooperation and friendship,” the ministry said Friday.

The meeting with Yang, regarded as a key official in charge of the “Great Power Diplomacy” under President Xi Jinping, took place amid a nascent thaw between the two Koreas following Pyongyang’s decision to take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The ministry was mum on theire evaluation of recent moves taken by Seoul and Pyongyang.

China, which is believed to have some sway with North Korea as its main economic lifeline, has called on Pyongyang and Washington to engage in dialogue for the sake of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan, meanwhile, is concerned that the North is trying to weaken international economic sanctions against it by cozying up to South Korea as part of a plan to buy more time to develop its missile and nuclear weapons technologies. Tokyo has warned the South against North Korea’s “charm offensive.”

Abe’s government has pledged to heap “maximum pressure” on North Korea in tandem with the United States and South Korea, as Pyongyang continues to express an eagerness to develop nuclear missiles that can hit the U.S. mainland.

The visit by Yachi, who heads the secretariat of the National Security Council, comes almost a month after Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing and proposed resuming reciprocal visits by their countries’ leaders.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency quoted Yang as telling Yachi he hopes both sides will work together toward restoring amicable ties and further developing the relationship.

Yachi and Yang reached agreement to bolster talks between Japan and China at various levels as well as economic cooperation and private-sector exchanges, the Foreign Ministry added.

Tokyo and Beijing have for years been mired in a territorial row over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

The dispute pushed ties to a new low after the government led by then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe’s predecessor, decided to effectively nationalize them in September 2012.

Ties have recently improved despite the lingering dispute, with this year marking the 40th anniversary of a bilateral friendship treaty.

But it remains uncertain whether the two can find ways to resolve the territorial issue in the near future, as Beijing continues to challenge the sovereignty of the Senkakus.

Last month, Kono lodged a protest over the entry of a Chinese submarine into the contiguous zone around Senkakus’ territorial waters and urged Beijing to take steps to prevent this from occurring in the future.

During Friday’s talks, Yachi and Yang also discussed how to hold a trilateral summit that includes South Korea, according to sources well versed in Sino-Japanese relations. Tokyo had attempted to host the meeting last year, but the event was ultimately postponed.

Yang last visited Japan for talks with Yachi in May.

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