BEIJING (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrived in Beijing on Sunday for talks with Chinese leaders that will focus on 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 focused 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 away from bilateral issues.
Noda is the first foreign leader to meet with China's leaders since Kim's death and he will emphasize the need to get stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program back on track.
"I would like exchange views and information in detail so as to avert a harmful effect on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Noda told reporters in Tokyo before he left for his trip.
Noda meets his counterpart, Wen Jiabao, on Sunday, and then President Hu Jintao on Monday before returning home. His visit to China was planned before Kim's death was announced Dec. 19.
He will tell Wen that China's role as chair of the six-party talks is "very important," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Saturday.
The six-party talks, which also include the two Koreas, the United States and Russia, 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, Pyongyang was blamed for two military attacks on South Korea that heightened tensions on the peninsula.
Noda, who came to power in September, met with Hu in November on the sidelines of an Asian-Pacific regional meeting in Hawaii.
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.
Noda also is expected to discuss the possibility of renting pandas for a zoo in Sendai to help cheer up the northern Japanese region as it recovers from the tsunami disaster 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, and the recent arrests of Chinese fishermen Japan says have been illegally fishing in its waters.
The countries also want to make sure relations are on an even keel in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in September.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.