In a joint statement released after the meeting the two leaders also agreed to hold regular summits, with the two countries taking it in turn to act as host.


"The two nations agreed that Japan and China both share larger responsibilities for the world's peace and development in the 21st century," said the statement signed by the two leaders.


It added that "co-operation for peace and friendship is the only option for Japan and China."


Change of tone


In their statement the Chinese leader also praised Japan for its "peaceful" role in the world since World War II, a sharp change of tone from previous exchanges where China has focused on Japanese wartime atrocities.


Fukuda, long a proponent of warmer ties with Japan's Asian neighbours, said good relations with China were vital for the region and the world.


Hu is making only the second-ever visit to
Japan by a Chinese president [Reuters]
"Japan and China both need to create a good future for Asia

and the world together by recognising their responsibility in the international community and by constantly deepening mutual understanding and mutual trust," he told reporters after the talks.


In a further sign of warming ties, Hu and Fukuda also said that they would work towards resolving a spat over ownership of gas deposits in the East China Sea.


China is tapping the deposits, but Japan says the fields should be jointly developed.


Fukuda called on the Chinese leader to continue talks on Tibet with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled spiritual leader.


"I told him that Japan considers the president's decision and the talks to be a first step towards a full-scale dialogue," Fukuda said after Wednesday's talks.


Hu is the most senior Chinese official to visit Japan in more than a decade, and his visit is only the second ever by a Chinese president.


Panda diplomacy


Relations between Japan and China have frequently been troubled by disputes over Japan's wartime past and rows over disputed territory.


During the last visit in 1998 by then president Jiang Zemin, relations quickly degenerated when Jiang lectured his hosts over whether Japan had adequately apologised for acts committed by Japanese troops in World War II.


Later China put a freeze on all high-level contact for five years in protest over visits by Junichiro Koizumi, the former Japanese prime minister, to Tokyo's controversial Yasakuni war shrine.


On Tuesday Hu arrived in Tokyo and quickly sought to set the tone of the visit by offering Japan two pandas to replace Ling Ling, the recently-deceased star attraction at Tokyo's biggest zoo.


Gifts of the endangered animals have traditionally been used by China as a means of symbolising international friendships, in a practice that has been labelled "panda diplomacy".