BEIJING – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Sunday that he and his Chinese counterpart have agreed to work together in dealing with North Korea and promoting stability in the closed country after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il.
Noda's first official visit to Beijing would normally have centered on bilateral issues, such as squabbles over islands claimed by both countries, but the death of Kim on Dec. 17 and the announcement of his son Kim Jong Un as the country's "supreme leader" has shifted the focus.
Noda, the first foreign leader to meet with China's leaders since Kim's death, emphasized the need to get stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program back on track.
"We are currently facing a new situation in East Asia," Noda told reporters after mentioning Kim's death.
"On this issue, it is very timely to exchange views with the host of the six-party talks and the country with the most influence on North Korea," he said, referring to China. "Safeguarding the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula is in the common interest of our two countries."
Noda was speaking before meeting with his counterpart, Wen Jiabao. He meets with President Hu Jintao on Monday before returning home. His visit to China was planned before Kim's death was announced Dec. 19.
When asked whether China could confirm that Kim Jong Un was in complete control of North Korea, Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Yutaka Yokoi would only say that Noda and Wen had discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula.
After meeting with Wen, Noda told reporters that the two leaders had agreed to cooperate to try to achieve stability on the peninsula.
"We shared the understanding that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and its peace and stability not only benefits Japan and China but serves the common interest of all neighboring countries," he said.
Noda, who came to power in September, met with Hu in November on the sidelines of an Asian-Pacific regional meeting in Hawaii. Yokoi said that a Chinese leader has been invited to visit Japan in the first half of next year, but would not say who.
Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, while China is the impoverished country's most important supporter and supplies it with food aid and much of its energy resources.
The six-party talks, which include the two Koreas, the United States and Russia, as well as China and Japan, are aimed at disarming North Korea of its nuclear capability. Pyongyang walked out on the talks in 2009 -- and exploded a second nuclear-test device -- but now wants to re-engage.
Last year, North Korea was blamed for two military attacks on South Korea that heightened tensions on the peninsula.
Yokoi said China would sincerely consider Noda's request to lease pandas for a zoo in Sendai to help cheer up the northern Japanese region as it recovers from the earthquake and tsunami disasters in March.
Japan and China have a list of sensitive topics they are trying to make progress on, including fights over islands and energy disputes in the East China Sea.
Noda and Wen noted that 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between their countries, and said both nations want to improve relations to mark that occasion.
Officials from both countries also signed memorandums of understanding on youth exchanges and setting up a clean energy and environmental protection investment fund.