Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. Abe arrived in Beijing on Thursday as both countries try to repair ties that have been riven by disputes over territory, military expansion in the Pacific and World War II history. (Roman Pilipey/Pool Photo via AP)

Beijing - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants to lift China-Japan ties into a "new dimension" as he kicked off his three-day visit to Beijing on Thursday, the first bilateral visit by a Japanese prime minister in seven years.

"As problems that cannot be resolved by one country alone have risen, the time has come for Japan and China to jointly contribute to world peace and prosperity," Abe said, speaking at a reception marking the 40th anniversary of a treaty between the two nations, according to Kyodo news agency.

Abe said China and Japan "are playing an essential role in economic growth" in Asia, and that he was eager to lift the countries' ties to a "new dimension," into a "new era."

Abe is set to meet with President Xi Jinping on Friday.

The two historic rivals have been pushed closer to each other under pressure from the United States.

In anticipation of Abe's arrival, China's Global Times state tabloid said the visit was a "landmark event that signals China-Japan relations are returning to the right track."

Abe and Xi are to discuss various global and regional issues, including North Korea's denuclearization. Xi and his wife will host a state banquet for Abe on Friday evening.

Abe, who is travelling with a large business delegation, is likely to propose new forms of cooperation between the world's second and third-largest economies during his talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, at a time when China is mired in a bitter trade war with the US.

Japan is also under pressure from US President Donald Trump to import more automotive and agricultural products in an attempt to slash chronic US trade deficits.

A better China-Japan relationship could afford Abe some "diplomatic space" from the US and put him in a better position to defend Japan's interests in discussions with Washington, said Jia Qingguo, an international relations professor at Peking University.

During Li's visit to Japan in May, the two countries agreed to cooperate on infrastructure projects in developing countries. The move can be seen as a step by Japan to join China's "Belt and Road" initiative to build transcontinental trade and infrastructure routes.

Japan said on Tuesday it had decided to discontinue its 40-year official development assistance for China as the aid "has fulfilled its role" now that the country has achieved economic growth and development in technology, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

The two countries' relations had frayed after Japan purchased uninhabited islets, the Senkaku, in the East China Sea in September 2012. The islets are also claimed by China, where they are known as Diaoyu.

China and Japan both know their dispute over the islets cannot be solved in the short term and are choosing not to let it define their relationship, Jia said.