The foreign ministers of China and Japan are meeting in Beijing in an effort to improve tense relations bedeviled by disputes over territory, history and competition for influence in East Asia.

China's official Xinhua News Agency says Wang Yi told Japan's Fumio Kishida on Saturday that China desires a "healthy and stable" relationship with Japan.

It is the first formal visit to China by a Japanese foreign minister in more than four years.

High-level ties between the two countries have been largely frozen since Japan nationalized a string of uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by China in 2012, sparking deep anger among Chinese.

Xinhua says Wang stressed that bilateral ties must be based on "respect for history, adherence to commitment, and on cooperation rather than confrontation."