Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the raging maritime disputes between the two Asian powerhouses. This is the first between the two leaders in more than a year.

While the duo have agreed to set up a hotline-like system between defence officials to lessen confrontation in the East China Sea, Abe hailed China as an "important friend".

"We need to look at the big picture and work to improve relations," Abe told reporters as the two leaders met after the two-day G20 summit in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. He added that "they will accelerate talks for establishing a communications mechanism between the two countries' naval and air forces," but stopped short of putting a timetable.

The Japanese premier went on: "With regard to South China and East China Sea issues, I frankly and clearly told President Xi about Japan's position and my thoughts."

Beijing and Tokyo have been at loggerheads due to overlapping territorial claims especially in the East China Sea. In recent times, there is much friction among countries regarding the South China Sea, where Japan has no territorial claims.

Addressing a joint press conference, the Chinese president said: "Both sides should bolster their sense of responsibility and crisis awareness, and work to build on the positive elements of bilateral ties while putting a lid on negative ones, in order to ensure stable improvement of relations." He admitted that Sino-Japanese ties are "troubled by complications at times" but urged they should put differences aside in order to improve relations.

Surprisingly, the two leaders have struck a reconciliatory tone in their statements marking a pointed departure from their earlier bilateral meeting. The pair did not attempt to hide their differences when they met in 2014 on the sidelines of an Apec gathering. This is the third meeting between Xi and Abe — leaders of the world's second- and third-largest economies — since they both took power in 2012.

Just before the G20 summit, China sent a record number of vessels into the uninhabited islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, stoking a series of diplomatic protests from Tokyo.