BEIJING — China said Friday it hopes a visit by Premier Li Keqiang to Japan next week will help get ties back to normal following years of tensions over territorial claims and other sensitive issues.
Li will travel to Japan on Tuesday for a four-day visit, including a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Tokyo on Wednesday, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou told reporters.
Apart from the trilateral meeting, Li will hold talks with Abe, meet with Emperor Akihito and visit the northern island of Hokkaido, Kong said.
Li on Sunday and Monday will first visit Indonesia, a close economic partner where China in 2015 won a contract to build a $5.2 billion high-speed rail line from the capital, Jakarta, to the city of Bandung. That project is now stalled and Kong said Li would seek to help resolve some of the problems surrounding it.
Despite close economic ties, many Chinese resent Japan over its invasion of their country last century. Relations nosedived in 2012 after Japan nationalized a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by China, setting off violent protests in China.
Ties have since been gradually improving and Kong said the sides would focus on expanding person-to-person exchanges.
"Thanks to the joint efforts, the bilateral relationship has seen steady improvement with progress across-the-board," Kong said. Li's visit is "important to bringing China-Japan ties back to the normal track and to plan for the future development of bilateral ties."
The trilateral meeting is expected to focus on cooperation between the countries rather than the issue of North Korea, although Kong said China applauded the "positive momentum of developments" on the Korean Peninsula.
China, whose troops fought on the North's side during the 1950-53 Korean War, was a party to the armistice that halted the fighting without a peace treaty. Talk of a formal peace agreement has revived since last week's breakthrough summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, China stands ready to communicate with the U.S., South Korea and others on the matter, Kong said.
Kong also recognized Japan's own agenda with the North, whom it accuses of kidnapping a number of its citizens over past decades.
"Japan ... has its own concerns about the peninsular situation. We understand that," he said.
"Ultimately, to maintain the peaceful and stable order on the Korean Peninsula and even the whole of northeast Asia, Japan is an indispensable part," Kong said.