SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Japanese businesses to help improve two-way ties, and promised to broaden market access and provide a more open and fair investment environment for foreign companies, the foreign ministry said.
The attempt to attract Japanese firms comes at a tough time for the slowing Chinese economy, which appears to be losing ground to Southeast Asia in drawing investment from the world's third largest economy.
Li made the comments in Beijing on Wednesday to a delegation of more than 200 business representatives from Japan invited to visit China by the State Council, or Cabinet, which he oversees, China's Foreign Ministry said late on Wednesday.
The remarks follow a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul on Sunday as the two sides try to ease tension in a relationship haunted by the legacy of Japan's World War Two aggression and conflicting claims over a group of East China Sea islets.
"I hope the business community will continue to actively support the development of China-Japan relations and cooperation," Li told the delegation, adding that Japanese businesses had already made a "long-term important contribution".
China was ready to work with Japan to "expand production-capacity cooperation" and work together to build infrastructure in developing countries, Li said. China would also try to hasten negotiations on the China-South Korea-Japan free trade pact and a comprehensive economic partnership in the region.
China would also "broaden market access, improve supervision and better protect intellectual property rights to provide a more open, transparent and fair investment environment for foreign companies", the foreign ministry quoted Li as saying.
Separately, China's defence minister, Chang Wanquan, warned his Japanese counterpart at a meeting on Wednesday not to make matters worse in the South China Sea, where China is entangled in a web of competing territorial claims with Southeast Asian countries.
"The South China Sea is not an issue between China and Japan, and we call on the Japanese side not to make any moves that could make the situation more complicated," Chang told Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani, the Chinese defence ministry website said.
A day after meeting Li, Abe told South Korean President Park Geun-hye that Japan, South Korea and the United States should cooperate in keeping the South China Sea open and peaceful.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)