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China, Japan reaffirm strategic relations in rare leader talks

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a family photo during ...

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a family photo during ...

Nov 17 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida committed to pursuing mutually-beneficial relations in their first face-to-face talks in a year,a sign that Asia's two largest economies are looking to patch upstrained ties.

The two leaders also discussed China's ban on Japanese seafood and the high-profile case of a Japanese businessman detained in China during their hour-long talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco on Thursdayevening.

The countries should "focus on common interests" and reaffirm their "strategic relationship of mutual benefit and give it new meaning," Xi told Kishida as they sat across from one another at a table flanked by their delegations.

In a joint statement in 2008, Japan and China agreed to pursue a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" designed to ensure frequent leadership exchanges on issues such as security.

But the phrasing has been used less frequently in recent years as the historic rivals have clashed over a series of issues such as territorial disputes, trade tensions and Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.

Kishida confirmed the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the relationship in comments to press after the talks.

"We shared the common view that we will continue to communicate closely on various levels including at the leadership level," Kishida said.

Most recently, ties have been tested by China's ban on Japanese seafood following Tokyo's decision to release treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea in August.

Kishida said he had strongly urged Xi to drop the ban and also sought the swift release of the businessman, which has dealt an outsized blow to their close economic ties.

Their meeting followed a highly-anticipated summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi in which the two superpowers agreed to open a presidential hotline and resume military-to-military communications, among other matters.

Kishida also met Biden at the summit where they discussed issues including "common challenges" that they share with China.

China's push to reaffirm relations with Japan could be partly driven by Tokyo's close ties with its arch-rival Washington, said Rumi Aoyama, an expert on Japan-China relations.

"I think there is a desire to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States by establishing a so-called strategic relationship with Japan amid the U.S.-China confrontation," said Aoyama, director of Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Kishida has also met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in their seventh meeting this year. The pair promised to push for deeper cooperation and discussed shared concerns like North Korea's missile tests.

Yoon, Kishida and Biden also held a brief trilateral meeting on Thursday.

Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are in San Francisco for the 30th summit from Nov. 15-17.