Talks in Tokyo between the foreign ministers of Japan and China on April 15 showed that bilateral ties are moving toward an improvement, despite some reservations on Beijing's part.

The visit by Wang Yi was the first by a Chinese foreign minister for a one-on-one session with his opposite number in Japan in almost nine years.

At the outset of the meeting, Kono said Wang's presence marked "a major step toward improving ties between Japan and China."

Wang said he accepted the invitation from Japan in light of "the forward-looking policy toward China being taken by Japan."

They agreed on the need for top leaders of the two nations to make mutual visits to further improve ties. But they stopped short of setting a date for a visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It had already been decided that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will visit in May for a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

After the meeting with Kono, Wang told reporters, "I support Japan's stance of wanting to improve relations with China."

He confirmed that the two sides agreed on the need to work for an even higher level of talks, but no mention was made of what form any visit to Japan by Xi would take.

Part of the hesitancy on Beijing's part lies in uncertainty about the seriousness of the Abe administration to improve ties.

A Chinese scholar of Japan said, "Abe has not spoken in detail about where he wants to take relations with China. Comparing the more aggressive manner in which he is trying to resolve historical issues with Russia, such as the Northern Territories dispute, it is obvious that he is not as serious about relations with China."

Chinese diplomatic sources also said Beijing would not be utilized to prop up plunging Cabinet approval ratings in Japan by allowing diplomatic results to be highlighted.

One source said although Abe appears to use diplomatic gains as one way to turn around falling support ratings, China had no intention of being a party to a summit meeting that had no meaningful context.

With regard to North Korea, it was clear that the two countries are not completely in sync.

Wang attended the surprise meeting in March in Beijing between Xi and visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials were eager to get whatever information Wang was willing to divulge, even including Kim's manner of speech.

While neither side went into detail about what was discussed in relation to North Korea, Wang told reporters he was encouraged by the more aggressive stance taken by Tokyo.

However, China did not appear to be buying Japan's call for cooperation in dealing with the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago.

One Chinese diplomatic source said the abduction issue was a matter involving Japan and North Korea. Even if Beijing was asked for help, the source said the only response would be that the issue was not very high on the agenda for China.

The question appeared to be what stance Japan was preparing to take toward North Korea.

"The world is moving toward dialogue with North Korea," the source said. "Now is the time for Japan to go along with that trend."

(This article was written by Tamiyuki Kihara and Takashi Funakoshi.)