Japan's foreign minister and the Chinese envoy to Tokyo met Friday in a rare courtesy call described as "friendly", with the two Asian giants looking to mend frosty ties.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, whose department has repeatedly summoned Ambassador Cheng Yonghua in recent months, declined to detail what the two discussed beyond saying they had "meaningful exchanges" based on their "mutually beneficial relationship".

The meeting came as long tumultuous Tokyo-Beijing relations plummet to new lows over ownership of islands in the East China Sea, as both countries ramp up their armed forces.

China has sent ships and aircraft into the area on scores of occasions, prompting counter deployments by Japan.

The spat has hammered trade relations, prompting Japanese business leaders to press Tokyo to improve relations with its top trading partner.

China's unilateral declaration last month of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes disputed territory drew protest from Tokyo, as well as from the United States and South Korea.

Japan's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not held direct talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping since sweeping elections late last year.

Kishida said Friday that he and Ambassador Cheng "confirmed that our bilateral relations are important".

"We exchanged information and views on a various subjects with regard to recent Japan-China relations," Kishida told reporters shortly after the meeting.

"I feel that we were able to have meaningful exchanges. I think the atmosphere was very friendly," he added.

Cheng said he detailed China's position on "various problems" while calling for dialogue to break the impasse.

"We confirmed that we need to hold talks on those matters to make efforts to solve them and bring ties back to a normal trajectory toward our mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests," Cheng added.

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