Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (left) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi reach out to shake hands during a meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing, April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China's relations with Japan should be based on cooperation not confrontation, China's foreign minister told his Japanese counterpart on Saturday, adding that China would judge Japan's desire to improve ties depending on its actions.

China, the world's second-largest economy, and Japan, the third-largest, have a difficult political history, with ties strained by the legacy of Japan's World War II aggression and conflicting claims over a group of uninhabited East China Sea islets.

Ties have been thawing recently, with meetings between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but Beijing remains deeply suspicious of Japan, particularly of moves by Abe to allow the military to fight overseas for the first time since the war.

Meeting in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that ties had fallen to a low ebb, something Japan should be clear of the reasons for.

"We have recently seen the Japanese side repeatedly expressing its hope of improving the bilateral relationship. You have also shown your willingness to take the first step. If you come with sincerity, we welcome you," Wang said.

"As the Chinese saying goes, we should make a judgment based on not only what people say but also what they do. I am ready to listen to your opinion about how to improve China-Japan relations, and I am also going to see whether the Japanese side will match its words with deeds," he added.

"Facing up to history, abiding by promises and cooperation rather than confrontation should be the basis of China-Japan relations."

Kishida, in comments in front of reporters, thanked Wang for expressions of condolence from China for recent earthquakes in Japan.