BEIJING (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrived in Beijing Sunday on an official visit focused on regional security following the death of North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il.

Ties between the two regional powers have been dogged by economic and territorial disputes, with Japan repeatedly raising concerns over China's widening naval reach in the Pacific and what it calls the "opaqueness" of Beijing's military budget.

But Kim's death has shifted the agenda to worries about nuclear-armed North Korea, where Kim's untested son Kim Jong-Un appears to be taking the reins of power in the isolated communist state. It has created a "new situation" in East Asia, Noda said as he met with Wen Jiabao, the prime minister of China, a country that wields the "most influence" over Pyongyang. Kim's death "should not wrongly affect the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. Under this situation the role of China is extremely important," a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman quoted Noda as telling Wen.

Analysts agree that China holds the key to handling North Korea, where Japan has few ties overall and fewer still to Kim's untested son.

Japan, having no ties with the North, can do little other than to support China's engagement with Pyongyang, said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor at Waseda University.

"You might call it an achievement if Japan and China only confirm their joint resolve to work together to protect peace and stability in northeast Asia including on the Korean peninsula," he added.

According to China Central Television, both Wen and Noda agreed to restart six-party negotiations on scrapping the North's nuclear programme at an early date.

The six-party talks, chaired by China and also involving the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, have been at a standstill since December 2008.

Noda, who is on his first visit to China since coming to power in September, stressed that "safeguarding the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula is in the common interest" of both Beijing and Tokyo.

Noda also urged Beijing to tell North Korea's new leadership that it "must make progress" in addressing the issue of past abduction of Japanese nationals if bilateral ties are to be improved, Kyodo news agency reported.

Japan has previously expressed outrage over North Korea's abduction of its nationals, and has viewed with concern Pyongyang's test-firing of its short-range missiles on the same day it announced Kim's death.

Noda's overnight visit was set for December 12 and 13, but rescheduled to Sunday and Monday at China's request, apparently for domestic reasons.

Some suggested the date change was tied to the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, in which Japanese troops killed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians during 1937-38.

"China and Japan should be good neighbours and good partners and not oppose each other," state television quoted Wen as telling Noda.

During talks with Wen, both sides agreed to set up high-level consultations to discuss maritime affairs, including a thorny territorial dispute in the East China Sea, the Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said.

The two are still trying to heal diplomatic wounds from a year ago when China reacted in fury over the arrest of one of its fishermen near the islands after he rammed his ship into Japanese coastguard vessels.

Meanwhile discussions on a free trade agreement between Japan, China and South Korea would likely begin early next year, the spokesman said without offering details.