By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and China agreed to work together on Friday to battle the coronavirus outbreak in bilateral cooperation helping offset historic frictions over a maritime territorial dispute.
The flu-like disease, which originated in China's central city of Wuhan, has infected more than 78,800 people and killed almost 2,800 in mainland China, while spreading to more than 50 other countries including Japan.
"China and Japan are having a very difficult time in dealing with the new coronavirus infection. That's all the more reason for Japan and China to join forces to overcome the difficulties," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told China's senior diplomat Yang Jiechi at a meeting in Tokyo.
His comments came after Japan evacuated more than 800 Japanese citizens and their non-Japanese relatives from Hubei province with charter flights in an operation helped by the Chinese government.
The chartered planes carried masks, gloves and other relief supplies into Hubei's capital Wuhan for Chinese people.
At a meeting earlier in the day, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi thanked China for support in the repatriation
Ties between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, have long been plagued by a territorial row over a group of tiny East China Sea islets, the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression and regional rivalry.
Yang said Sino-Japanese cooperation over the public health crisis will help improve relations. "China wants to overcome this hardship together with Japan," he told Motegi.
"I'm confident that people in both countries helping one another and extending goodwill in the face of the spreading contagion will help drive recovery and development of bilateral ties."
Motegi said, following his meeting with Yang, that there was no change to Chinese President Xi Jinping's plan to visit Japan this spring as a state guest.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Leussink, Akira Tomoshige; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Cawthorne)