( AP ) - Japanese and Chinese leaders heralded a new era of closer ties between the two Asian powers Wednesday, moving to repair relations damaged by a harsh dispute over history and signing accords on energy and environmental protection.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at the outset of Wen's visit to Tokyo, the first by a Chinese leader for nearly seven years. The meeting followed an ice-breaking trip by Abe to China in October.
Kyodo News agency also reported the two agreed to seek ways to jointly develop gas deposits in disputed waters, pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and "face up to history" in building forward-looking relations.
"Our talks will be a big step toward building strategically and mutually beneficial relations," Abe told Wen at the start of their talks at his office complex after welcoming him on with a red carpet, despite the rain.
"That is the most important goal of my visit," said the Chinese leader, who was meeting Abe for the third time in six months. "We need to talk about the details of what strategically and mutually beneficial relations would entail."
The environmental accord called for the two to work on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by 2013. China is in the Kyoto pact, but its emissions are a rising concern as the economy rapidly expands.
The other agreement committed Japan and China to cooperate on developing energy resources. But the deal did not mention the countries' heated dispute over exploitation of natural gas reserves in the East China Sea.
The visit was a high-profile follow-up to Abe's landmark summit with Chinese leaders in Beijing in October, which staunched a deterioration in ties that had troubled the region and Japan's top ally, the United States.
The two neighbors have important economic incentives to cooperate. China, including Hong Kong, is Japan's No. 1 trading partner and Japanese companies are eager for access to Chinese consumers and labor. China, meanwhile, seeks Japanese investment.
Wen arrived just hours after the two countries signed an accord lifting Beijing's four-year ban on Japanese rice imports. China banned imports in 2003, claiming Japanese rice did not qualify for its tightened quarantine system.
The Japanese were eager to stifle talk of disagreements. When asked about reports that Wen considered the visit an "ice-melting" trip, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said: "We're not aware of any remaining ice."
The Chinese premier was scheduled to give a speech to parliament and meet with business leaders and the emperor on Thursday, and even join in a game of baseball with college students in western Japan on Friday before returning to China.
The visit represents a further easing of ties strained for several years by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who angered Beijing and other Asian neighbors with repeated visits to a Tokyo shrine honoring Japanese war dead, including executed war criminals.
Japan invaded China in the 1930s and occupied huge swaths of the country until Tokyo's 1945 defeat in World War II.
Abe, however, moved quickly to repair ties with visits to Beijing and Seoul in October, only weeks after taking office. Wen's appearance in Tokyo should set the stage for a subsequent visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Japan and perhaps another Abe trip to China.
The history issue, however, remains simmering below the surface. Wen has urged Japanese leaders not to go to the Yasukuni war shrine. Abe has not visited as prime minister, but refuses to say whether he will or not.
Japanese officials are also concerned by China's rapid increase in military spending, while Beijing has warily watched Tokyo build up military ties with the United States.