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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 07:30 GMT
Chinese minister arrives in Japan
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing arrives at Tokyo International Airport on 15 February 2007
Li Zhaoxing will meet Japanese leaders during his three-day visit
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has arrived in Japan for talks designed to help repair tense bilateral ties.

Mr Li's visit will pave the way for Chinese PM Wen Jiabao's trip in April.

Japan's relations with China have been badly strained in recent years, but since Shinzo Abe took over as Japan's PM, both sides have tried to mend ties.

This week's breakthrough deal on North Korea's nuclear programme, agreed during six-party talks in Beijing, is also likely to be on Mr Li's agenda.

Laying the groundwork

Mr Li is due to spend three days in Japan, and he is scheduled to meet both his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"The prime purpose is to lay the groundwork for a visit by Prime Minister Wen," said Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki.

Yasukuni Shrine Japan PM visits shrine which honours war criminals among others
Textbooks Japanese schools have adopted text books which China says whitewash atrocities
Gas fields The countries argue over gas exploration rights in the East China Sea
Disputed islands Both countries claim ownership of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

"We would like to do the work in a frank atmosphere so that we can build reciprocal, strategic relations," he said.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have been tense in the past few years, mainly over former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the Yasukuni war shrine.

Chinese leaders condemned the shrine visits as an attempt to glorify Japan's militaristic past.

Other disagreements made matters worse, including rival claims to disputed gas fields and Japanese text books which China says whitewash historical atrocities.

But relations between the two countries have slowly been improving since Shinzo Abe took power in late September.

Soon after becoming prime minister, Mr Abe travelled to Beijing in an effort to improve relations.

And despite his reputation for being a hardliner, Mr Abe has so far refrained from saying if he will visit the Yasukuni shrine during his tenure.

But there are many differences that still need to be resolved.

In the recently agreed deal on North Korean disarmament, Japan has often taken a harder line than China, and has already refused to fund aid to Pyongyang due to a row about abductions of Japanese citizens.

Earlier this month, Japan protested that a Chinese ship was carrying out surveillance in a disputed area of water.

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