MANILA--Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took further steps toward improving ties with China before the 40th anniversary of the two nations’ friendship treaty next year during a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 13.

The meeting came two days after Abe met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is rare for a Japanese prime minister to meet in such quick succession with the top two Chinese leaders.

Abe and Li confirmed the need to further improve bilateral ties ahead of the anniversary. The two leaders also agreed to hold an early meeting in Tokyo among the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea. Li would represent China in such a trilateral meeting.

Their meeting was held on the sidelines of a summit among nations with close ties to ASEAN being held here. Li started by referring to Abe's recent meeting with Xi, which the prime minister described as representing a fresh start in bilateral ties.

"Aggressive change has begun to appear recently in ties between China and Japan," Li said.

Touching upon the significance of the 40th anniversary in 2018, Li said, "It means that we must further develop a goodwill relationship and overcome any difficulties that lie between us. We intend to make every effort to move closer."

In response, Abe said, "With an eye on the 40th anniversary, we plan to further develop a mutually beneficial strategic relationship and move strongly forward in improving relations."

Li also did not forget the historical understanding issues that have often hindered bilateral ties in the past.

"We cannot deny the existence of a few sensitive factors," he said.

Li called on Japan to hold the spirit of considering "history as a mirror to use in moving toward the future."

According to government officials, the two leaders discussed issues related to North Korea and confirmed that the two nations share the objective of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. They also agreed to further deepen cooperation to ensure the peace and stability of the region by, for example, completely implementing the provisions of sanctions based on U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The leaders also confirmed the need to promote exchanges between the economic sectors of Japan and China.

"Economic development in China represents an opportunity for Japan, and we hope the Chinese economy can develop in a stable and sustainable manner," Abe said.