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Japanese, Chinese leaders pledge closer ties on key issues

TOKYO -- Strengthening a fragile détente, Japanese and Chinese leaders meeting in Tokyo pledged to work together on North Korea, energy development, and the environment, while defusing thorny disputes over history and territory.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is on the first visit to Japan by a Chinese leader in nearly seven years, building on a trip by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Beijing last year to salvage seriously damaged ties.

The two declared firm intentions to move forward on rebuilding relations, signing agreements on energy and the environment and issuing a joint statement that laid out a series of issues for the countries to cooperate on.

"We must build future-oriented and stable Japan-China relations," Abe said at a banquet in Wen's honor. "We want to expand our common interests through strengthening dialogue in various fields."

Wen said he expected his three-day visit to be a success.

"We must keep up the momentum toward building friendly ties that have been forged between the governments and peoples of the two countries," he said.

"Japan and China are at a crossroads where we must inherit the past while opening up the future."

They signed a series of agreements. An environmental accord called for the two to work on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by 2013. China's emissions are not capped under the Kyoto pact, but they are a growing concern as the economy rapidly expands.

The other agreement committed Japan and China to cooperate on developing energy resources.

In the joint statement, the two vowed to seek ways to jointly develop gas deposits in disputed waters, pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and cooperate on intellectual property rights.

The declaration also made a veiled reference to the bitter dispute over wartime history. China still nurses resentment over Japanese invasions in the 1930s and 1940s, while Japanese nationalists accuse Beijing of exaggerating accounts of atrocities for political gain.

"We resolve to face up to history and open up good, forward-looking relations toward a beautiful future," the statement said.

In an important nod to Tokyo, Beijing also offered understanding and sympathy for Japan's "humanitarian concerns" regarding North Korea -- a reference to Japan's demand for the resolution of Pyongyang's kidnappings of Japanese citizens.

The visit was a high-profile follow-up to Abe's landmark summit with Chinese leaders in Beijing in October, which staunched a downward spiral in ties that had troubled the region and Japan's top ally, the United States.