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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to travel to China later this month for his first formal visit in seven years, in a further sign of improving relations between the regional rivals.

Bilateral ties nosedived in 2012 after Japan nationalized a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by Beijing, setting off violent protests in China.

Despite close economic ties, many Chinese also resent Japan over its invasion of their country last century. Beijing routinely warms of resurgent Japanese militarism, despite little evidence of that appearing.

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Abe’s Oct. 25-27 visit follows a trip to Japan in May by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the ruling Communist Party’s second-ranking official. President and party leader Xi Jinping is also expected to visit Japan at a future date.

“With joint efforts by the two sides, we maintained the momentum of improving bilateral ties,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Friday.

Along with trade and investment, talks between the leaders are expected to touch on North Korea, which both countries have been pressing to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Japan hopes to “step up co-operation in all areas and elevate Japan-China relations to a higher level,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday. “I hope (the leaders) open their hearts and discuss frankly.”

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