Shaking hands but not smiling, Chinese President
Disputes over a group of islands known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, along with lingering bitterness over World War II-era issues, have put the two countries' diplomatic relations on ice and led to fears that a mishap in the seas or skies could escalate into military conflict.
Xi had refused to meet Abe for the past two years. China has been irritated by the Japanese government's move to purchase the uninhabited islands from their private owner and by Abe's visits to a controversial shrine in Tokyo honoring Japan's war dead, including some WWII war criminals.
But a failure for the two sides to meet at APEC could have cast a cloud over the gathering of world leaders, to which the Chinese leadership has attached great importance.
Monday's 25-minute encounter between Xi and Abe came after delegates from the two countries released a carefully worded joint statement Friday pledging to try to put relations between the world's second-largest and third-largest economies back on track.
Chinese state media reported that Xi and Abe met at the request of the Japanese. Neither leader looked particularly enthused in photographs shot in the Great Hall of the People.
The official New China News Service said that during the discussions, Xi told Abe that "severe difficulties have emerged in Sino-Japanese relations in recent two years and the rights and wrongs behind them are crystal clear." He urged Japan to do more to play a constructive role in the stability of the region.
Abe said the encounter "represented a first step toward improving relations by having Japan and China return to a starting point of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests," according to a statement from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Abe pledged to continue what he called Japan's path of "aggressive pacifism."
According to the Japanese side, the heads of state discussed creating a system designed to avoid maritime skirmishes, and briefly touched on other international issues such as North Korea and the Ebola outbreak.
In another move aimed at smoothing relations, Japan also announced over the weekend that it would relax visa requirements for multiple-entry visas for Chinese citizens in order "to further broaden people-to-people exchanges between Japan and China" and boost tourism.
Silbert is a special correspondent and Makinen is a Times staff writer.