Days later Japan's foreign minister chided Beijing over its nuclear weapons programme, triggering another angry response from China's leaders.

Sensitive ties

The rows highlighted the sensitive nature of the relations between the two countries.

Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine has long been a focus of China-Japan tensions [GALLO/GETTY]
China has frequently accused Japan of whitewashing its past wartime abuses, while Japan has become increasingly wary of China's rising economic and military might.

But the disputes are likely to be kept on the sidelines during Aso's meetings with Chinese leaders, with talks focusing instead on efforts to mitigate the effects of the economic slowdown and other issues of mutual concern, such as the threat of swine flu.

Aso is expected to hold talks with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, on Wednesday, and meet Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, on Thursday.

Another issue likely to be on the agenda is efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme.

Nuclear tensions

Japan is hoping China – North Korea's closest ally – will be able to use its influence to persuade the North to resume disarmament talks.

North Korea's controversial rocket launch earlier this month raised tensions in the region, with Japan seeking international sanctions to punish the North but China favouring a softer line.

Despite lingering tensions between Japan and China, a series of summits over the past two years have helped lay the groundwork for increased cooperation between Asia's two largest economies.

Between 2001 and 2006 China suspended high talks with Japan in protest at visits to the Yasukuni shrine by the then Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

Talks between the two sides only resumed after Shinzo Abe took over as prime minister and refrained from making similar visits.