Japan has sent good wishes to China with a cordial letter ahead of new talks between the countries.

A Japanese senior envoy handed China’s leader a letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the first high-level meeting between the two countries since tensions escalated over a territorial dispute that has damaged trade ties and threatened to spillover into a military conflict.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, a senior member of Japan’s ruling coalition, met with Xi Jinping where he gave China’s new Communist party chief the cordial letter from Abe which sent wishes of good health and spoke of the two countries’ “shared responsibility for peace and prosperity” in the region, according to AP.

Friday’s meeting was seen as a diplomatic step underlining both countries’ willingness to resolve the crisis over the Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

Abe described the meeting as a “valuable opportunity to share views”.

China attached “great importance” to Yamaguchi’s visit which came at a time when China-Japan relations “face a special situation”,  Xi told the envoy.

Yamaguchi, speaking to reporters afterwards, said both men emphasized the need for “discussion and calm” and discussed a possible summit between Xi and Abe, AP reports.

Tensions in surrounding waters have ratcheted up since September as China challenge Japan’s control of the islands with sea and air patrols near the territory, forcing Tokyo to scramble fighter jets to the area.