Abe talks with Xi, Park

Japan's PM Shinzo Abe.

ST. PETERSBURG - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exchanged words briefly with South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday on the sidelines of the two-day Group of 20 summit in the city.

The encounters were his first direct conversations with either of them since taking office.

Abe and Park talked briefly prior to a dinner to mark the official start of the G-20 meeting on Thursday. However, both the Japanese and South Korean governments declined to clarify the content of the Abe-Park conversation.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Abe and Xi "briefly exchanged words" that evening. Xi was quoted as telling Abe that the strain in bilateral ties over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and other issues relating to Japan's wartime past is "exactly what I don't want to see."

The Chinese leader also expressed his wish to see the promotion of a "strategic, mutually beneficial relationship" between the two countries, Xinhua reported. "Japan should face history squarely and deal appropriately with such sensitive issues as the Diaoyu Islands [the Chinese name for the Senkakus] and historical matters from a future-oriented standpoint so as to resolve the problems by getting differences in bilateral standpoints under sufficient control," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

At a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office on Friday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe told Xi that the two countries "should return to the starting point of their mutually beneficial strategic relationship to ensure ties between Japan and China progress."