• Kyodo

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Japan and China agreed on Monday to bolster sports and youth exchanges in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, during their first political dialogue on cultural exchange in nine years.

The talks are part of preparations for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s expected visit to Japan next month amid a thaw in bilateral relations, which in recent years had been strained by territorial and historical grievances.

The officials also discussed ways to commemorate this year’s 40th anniversary of the signing of a bilateral peace and friendship treaty, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The talks were led by Manabu Miyagawa, the ministry’s director general for cultural affairs, along with Xie Jinying, director general of the bureau for external cultural relations in China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

“We will advance our exchanges in culture, sports and tourism to deepen the strategic, mutually beneficial relationship between Japan and China,” Miyagawa said at the outset of the talks, which were open to the press.

“We want to make visits at all levels regular, and have many experts participate in cultural exchange,” Xie said.

They agreed to hold the next round of talks in China in 2020, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The last such dialogue was held in June 2009 in Beijing, before various bilateral frameworks were put on hiatus amid a chill in ties, driven in part by China’s challenge to the sovereignty of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Li is set to visit Japan to take part in a long-delayed trilateral summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Tokyo hopes Li’s trip could lead to a visit to China by Abe and a reciprocal visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.