Chinese premier Li Keqiang is in Tokyo for talks on North Korea and bilateral ties, a month after the two Asian rivals pledged a “new starting point” for relations.
“As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty this year, I wish to build a relationship where leaders can easily visit each other,” Abe said after talks with Li.
“Premier Li offered an invitation for me to visit China. I expressed my gratitude and said I look forward to visiting China at an appropriate time.”
Abe has visited China for regional summits in recent years, holding talks on the sidelines of APEC meetings with President Xi Jinping.
But the last official visit by a Japanese prime minister to Beijing was in 2011, when Yoshihiko Noda met President Hu Jintao.
Relations between the two countries soured in 2012.
Plans for reciprocal visits by Abe and Xi have been in the works for some time, but Li’s invitation appeared to be the first formal signal.
“As Prime Minister Abe has just said, and I agree with him, an official visit at an appropriate time is necessary,” Li said.
The world’s second- and third-largest economies have a fraught relationship, complicated by longstanding maritime disputes and Japan’s wartime legacy.
The dispute over islands in the East China Sea -- known as the “Senkakus” in Japanese and the “Diaoyu” by the Chinese -- remains a source of tension.
But Tokyo is eager to get the relationship back on a firmer footing, especially as it fears being shut out of negotiations on North Korea, which have proceeded at a breakneck pace in recent months with Japan largely on the sidelines.
Li arrived in Tokyo Tuesday to take part in three-way talks with Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but is staying on to meet local officials and businesses.
Abe said Thursday the countries had agreed to start a communication “mechanism” to avoid unexpected confrontations at sea or in the air.
Tokyo has regularly protested Chinese activity around the Senkaku islands, including by boats carrying out maritime research in Tokyo’s exclusive economic zone near the disputed islands.
Relations between the two deteriorated in 2012, when Tokyo “nationalized” some of the islets, but have gradually improved since then. (AFP)