New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan and China are closely related and strengthening bilateral political ties is beneficial to regional and global peace.
Abe made the statement on Thursday during a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, stressing the importance of relations with China and South Korea.
Japan's economy is "inseparable" from these bilateral ties, and efforts should be made to build "relations of trust" in economic and other areas, he said.
He said frank exchanges of views, goals and ideals are the first step in building "relations of trust."
Abe, who took office on September 26, will pay an official visit to China on Sunday before flying to Seoul to meet South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday.
Relations between Tokyo and its neighbours have deteriorated in recent years because of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies wartime militarism. Those honoured there include executed war criminals from World War II.
Abe has still not said whether he will visit the war shrine. But he has reportedly been using softer public statements on history to lay the groundwork for the summits.
He told a parliamentary panel on Thursday that wartime leaders, including his cabinet minister grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, had "great responsibility" for starting the war.
Kishi was imprisoned as a war criminal but was never tried and went on to serve as prime minister from 1957 to 1960.
"As a result of starting war, many Japanese lost their lives and families, and we left many scars on the people of Asia," said Abe, who, at 52, is Japan's first premier born after World War II.
"Particularly those people in the position of leader at the time, including my grandfather, had great responsibility."
Abe also referred in parliament this week to a 1995 statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologizing for the wartime suffering Japan caused in Asia.
And in a nod to an issue highly emotive in South Korea, Abe said he accepted as valid a 1993 Japanese Government statement admitting the Imperial Japanese Army forced thousands of mostly Asian women, many of them Korean, to provide sex for soldiers.
Earlier, US President George Bush said he was encouraged by Abe's planned visits to China and South Korea.
"The United States places utmost importance on close co-operation between its two key allies in East Asia," Japan and South Korea, the White House said in a statement released on Wednesday.
The statement also said co-operation between Japan and China helps in "dealing with the common challenges we face in Asia."
Source: China Daily