Japan PM's letter appeal to China leader

Japanese premier Shinzo Abe has made a direct appeal to Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping for the two countries to improve relations amid their bitter row over disputed islands. 

According to China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, Mr Abe said in a letter that he would like to "push forward Japan-China strategic relationships for mutual benefit". 

Relations have been tense since the long-running row over the islands intensified in September when Tokyo nationalised part of the chain. 

The move triggered a diplomatic dispute and huge anti-Japan demonstrations across China.

Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the Tokyo-controlled islands. 

According to a statement on China's foreign ministry website, Mr Xi stressed that the two sides have to "properly handle sensitive issues".

But it re-iterated China's position that "Japan should face up to history and reality and take concrete actions to work with China".