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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a ceremony Thursday marking the anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and China as well as China’s national day, in a display of his intent to improve delicate relations between the Asian neighbors.

Abe attended the event at a Tokyo hotel, becoming a first Japanese leader to take part in the annual ceremony in more than a decade. He said he hoped Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Japan at the earliest possible date.

Abe said stronger ties between Japan and China benefit the two countries and also are indispensable for peace and stability in Northeast Asia “given the current situation” in the region, referring to the escalating nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Abe’s attendance on a busy day on which he dissolved the lower house of parliament for snap elections was seen as a gesture of his willingness to improve ties.

The two Asian countries mark their 45th anniversary of ties on Friday, and China’s national day is Sunday.

Beijing welcomed the attendance of Abe, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties is “of great significance” in bilateral relations. He expressed hope that Japan sees it as an opportunity to draw lessons from history and look to the future and improve ties “in a correct direction.”

Abe told Chinese and Japanese guests that he hopes to visit China and intends to host a Japan-China-South Korea summit by the end of this year as part of deepening relations with Beijing.

Tokyo and Beijing have had rocky relations over Japan’s aggression in World War II and disputes over uninhabited islands and undersea resources in the East China Sea.

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Associated Press writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

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