Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing on Monday, the first top-level meeting between the two Asian rivals after a period of frosty relations.
The meeting, which Abe described as a "first step" in warming ties, came as world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, gathered for the APEC leadership summit.
But both leaders seemed guarded at the handshake photo opportunity, with Xi mostly unresponsive to Abe's greetings.
"Severe difficulties have emerged in Sino-Japanese relations in recent two years and the rights and wrongs behind them are crystal-clear," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.
The meeting had been in doubt after Beijing reportedly imposed preconditions calling on Tokyo to recognize that the East China Sea island chain it calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu is in dispute.
China also wanted Abe to swear off further visits to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which houses the remains of Japanese war criminals.
While the island dispute wasn't directly mentioned during the talks, Abe asked Xi to establish a hotline to prevent further clashes between naval and coastguard patrol vessels at sea, adding: "I think we will start working on concrete steps toward it," Kyodo News reported.
The two Asian neighbors have been at loggerheads over the disputed island chain, visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni shrine, and an ongoing war of words over Tokyo's past military aggression in East Asia.
China's official media hailed the meeting as being of "historic significance," but blamed the cooling of relations on Abe's government.
"Given that the China-Japan relationship has been icebound for two years, the landmark talk between Xi and Abe is of historic significance to the future interaction between the world's second and third largest economies," Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Monday.
But it said further improvements in ties are still up to Tokyo.
"It is Tokyo that cast the ice spell on China-Japan relations; it is also Tokyo that called for the Xi-Abe meeting," the article said. "Now that Abe has talked the talk, he now needs to walk the walk."
Obama told a glitzy opening banquet at Beijing's Olympic Park that the United States "welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China", announcing an extension of a reciprocal visitor visa program as he did so.
But he also called on Beijing to "respect human rights," as well as ease trade tensions.
"We suggest that China do these things for the sake of sustainable growth in China and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region," he said.
Meanwhile, Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had what aides described as a "brief encounter," on the sidelines of the summit, although bilateral talks are expected at the G20 summit in Brisbane later this week.
On Sunday, Xi sought to extend his "Chinese dream" metaphor to the entire APEC region, holding out the "infinite promise" of an "Asia-Pacific dream."
Chinese political analysts said Obama is now largely perceived as a less powerful president by Beijing, following his party's decisive defeat in the mid-term elections.
Joseph Cheng, politics professor at Hong Kong's City University said Obama is unlikely to use the trip to hammer home any major points on human rights violations, in spite of repeated calls by a number of U.S.-based rights groups ahead of his trip.
Cheng said officials in Obama's entourage are currently trying to arrange meetings with religious and human rights activists, but are being blocked by Chinese officials.
"The U.S. President will come in for a lot of criticism from Chinese opinion-makers if he brings up human rights and freedom of religion during a trip to China," he added.
He said U.S. and Chinese officials are also apparently at loggerheads over arrangements for a joint news conference.
"China can control which journalists are allowed to attend the joint news conference, and what questions they ask," Cheng said. "They have a lot of control."
Elsewhere in Beijing, the authorities have continued to round up and detain thousands of ordinary Chinese with complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party, petitioners said.
Police are patrolling key subway stations in the capital and searching people they suspect of planning protests or petitions, Jilin petitioner Wang Jing told RFA on Monday.
"They have a lot of volunteers posted at subway stations and other transportation stations, and if they discover you are a petitioner at the subway station, they immediately detain you," Wang said.
"Then you will be taken to Jiujingzhuang," she said, referring to a large-scale unofficial detention center, or "black jail," on the outskirts of the capital.
Wang said some of her companions were detained as they tried to enter the Olympic Park in a bid to catch a glimpse of world leaders on Monday.
"They detained three of them, and we know that they are currently being held in a basement room in the southern railway station," she said. "I just had a text from them; there are eight people there altogether."
Beijing petitioner Zhang Shufeng said her husband was detained on Monday after he tried to approach the APEC venue.
"There are 12 people following us now," Zhang said. "The police told me my husband had traveled to Yanxi Lake in Huairou where the APEC forum is being held."
"Is there a law that says you can't go to Yanxi Lake?" she questioned. "But if you go there during the APEC forum, you'll get detained."
Call for pressure
Meanwhile, the son and wife of detained ethnic Mongolian dissident Hada called on Obama to put pressure on China's leaders to release him.
"We have been pursuing our case through legal channels for many years now," Hada's son, Uiles, and wife, Xinna, wrote in an open letter to Obama.
"This has been going on non-stop since 1995, for 17 years, but hasn't been resolved, and the persecution we have suffered has got worse."
"We are at the end of our options, and can only turn now to the international community for help," the letter said.
Hada, in his mid-50s, is being held under de facto house arrest after 15 years in jail on charges of "separatism" and "espionage." Xinna, who has been charged with no crime, says she is under close surveillance and has been prevented from visiting him and from earning a living via her bookshop.
She has also rejected drugs charges against Uiles as a form of official retaliation against the family.
Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.