Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has met with a Japanese delegation led by ex-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono amid halting efforts to reduce tensions between the countries.

Li told Kono on Tuesday that both sides want to overcome recent difficulties sparked by an island dispute and what Beijing sees as Japan's shirking of its responsibility for World War II.

A brief meeting in November between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping helped break the ice, but a full range of exchanges has yet to be restored.

In 1993, Kono released a now-famous statement conceding that the Japanese Imperial Army forced foreign women to work in military-run brothels during the war.

Before then, the government had denied the women were coerced and the statement has remained controversial in Japan.