China and Japan must address disputes over East China Sea islands “in a timely manner”, said China’s new leader Xi Jinping on Friday in an indication that both governments were looking to calm tensions that have, in recent weeks, strained relations.

In the most significant high-level contact , the Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary met Natsuo Yamaguchi, who heads the New Komeito Party, here on Friday. The New Komeito is the smaller of the two parties in the coalition led by Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, which came to power in December.

Mr. Yamaguchi is the first top leader from Tokyo to visit China following the tensions over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islands, after Japan announced a plan to purchase some of the islands from their private owner. China responded angrily, stepping up patrols in the waters off the islands.

Both countries have recently even scrambled fighters after aircraft entered the airspace above the islands to enforce their claims.

Mr. Xitold Mr. Yamaguchi that China’s position was “consistent and clear”.

While he called on Japan “to respect history as well as reality”, he also pushed for “joint efforts.. to seek effective methods for appropriately controlling and resolving problems through dialogue and consultation,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In a further indication of efforts to ease tensions — State media outlets in China and People’s Liberation Army officers have in recent days suggested armed conflict was not off the table – Mr. Abe sent a letter to Mr. Xi.

Delivered by Mr. Yamaguchi, the letter called for a “shared responsibility” for peace and requested a summit meeting, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

“I will seriously consider a high-level dialogue,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Xi as saying. “To do so,” he added, “arranging the proper environment is of vital importance”.

A commentary published after Friday’s meeting by the official Xinhua news agency called on both countries to solve their disputes through dialogue and consultation, in a marked change in tone from recent commentaries in State media pushing a hardline stance.

  • Our position is clear and consistent: XI

  • Tokyo for summit to sort out the issue