However, Japan's Kyodo news agency said the two ministers agreed to speed up negotiations on their countries' dispute over undersea gas reserves, another major thorn in relations between the two Asian heavyweights.

A Japanese foreign ministry official confirmed that Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister, and Li Zhaoxing, his Chinese counterpart, met on Tuesday on the sidelines of an international economic conference in Doha, Qatar.

The Chinese foreign ministry had said prior to the talks that the two ministers would discuss their countries' diplomatic dispute over Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine that Asian neighbours say glorifies Japan's militarist past.

Wartime conquests

Li renewed Beijing's demands that Koizumi stop visiting the Yasukuni shrine, but the two ministers' positions remained wide apart, and Aso asked for Beijing's understanding over the issue, Kyodo said.

China, and other critics such as South Korea, consider the shrine - which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including some executed war criminals - a glorification of Japan's wartime conquests of East Asia.

They view Koizumi's repeated visits as showing approval of that stance.

Japan invaded China in 1937 and is blamed for the massacre of as many as 300,000 civilians in the eastern city of Nanjin.

Koizumi has said he is not making his pilgrimages as part of the prime minister's official duties but to express his personal grief over people killed in war.

China has repeatedly demanded that Koizumi abandon further visits to the shrine as a condition for better ties.

The meeting in Qatar was the first between Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers since May 2005, when they conferred one-on-one at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Kyoto, Japan.