Visiting Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged China on Friday to partner with Japan in tackling global issues such as climate change, saying improving relations gave the Asian giants a unique opportunity to take leading roles.

With bilateral ties often hampered by animosity stemming from disputes over territory, resources and wartime history, Fukuda's four-day visit — his first as prime minister — marked another turning point in warmer relations.

In a speech at prestigious Peking University, broadcast live on state television, Fukuda said the countries were "major presences in the world."

"The two countries have never been as powerful as today for contributing to the stability and development of Asia and the world," he said.

"China-Japan relations have never faced this kind of opportunity, and I believe China and Japan should become creative partners to build a better Asia and world."

Fukuda held talks with both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who also praised the improved bilateral relations.

"Prime Minister Fukuda said the spring has come in our relations and after 2-1/2 hours of talks, I truly feel that the spring of China-Japan relations has indeed arrived," Wen said.

In Hu's talks with Fukuda, Hu said the two countries should expand exchanges of professional people at all levels, as well as young students, and properly tackle sensitive issues to build a "good neighborly friendship," according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

Hu will visit Japan next year. It will be the first such trip by a Chinese head of state since Jiang Zemin in 1998.

"Its significance is truly great," Wen said.

The two sides signed an agreement to promote scientific and technological cooperation to fight climate change. The agreement calls for Japan to invite 50 young Chinese researchers every year for the next four years to be trained to combat global warming.

Another agreement called for the launching of a joint project to study and develop magnetic nuclear fission, and there was also a memorandum on increasing exchanges between the youth of China and Japan.

As part of that, next year Japan will invite 3,000 Chinese high school students to visit while sending 1,000 to China, Japanese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mitsuo Sakaba said.

Japan is eager to help China tackle pollution that is increasingly felt across the sea in Japan.

"Both sides have consistently believed that, on climate change, pushing forward cooperation is our duty and responsibility in the international community," Fukuda said.

Industries in China are notorious for their inefficiency, requiring more coal or other energy sources to produce the same amount of output as a plant in Japan.

No progress had been expected on a long-running dispute over China and Japan's competing claims to gas reserves in the East China Sea, but both Fukuda and Wen said they wanted to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.

The two also discussed North Korea, a close ally of Beijing, which has been accused of abducting Japanese citizens during the 1970s and '80s.

"China understands Japan's attention to the kidnapping issue," said Wen, who also praised Tokyo for its "support of the one-China policy and its opposition to Taiwan independence."

In his speech at Peking University, Fukuda also referred to Japan's invasion and occupation of China. "I believe we can prevent mistakes in the future only if we properly look at the past, and have the courage and wisdom to repent what we must repent."

Fukuda visits the industrial port of Tianjin on Saturday and will make a stop in Qufu, the birthplace of the ancient philosopher Confucius, before returning home Sunday.