"On North Korea, we have agreed to implement United Nations sanctions strictly and to continue cooperating closely", Abe told reporters after meeting Putin on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang, Vietnam.
"I want us to strongly move forward the development of a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship", Abe replied, saying he too had noticed a trend of improvement.
Later Monday, Abe and the leaders of the Mekong nations of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met to discuss Japan's ongoing contributions to the development of the region.
The leaders are also expected to unite in condemning North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
While differences remain in the two countries' positions on North Korea and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Abe and Li found some common ground on both issues.
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Abe appealed to Li for China - North Korea's primary diplomatic and economic backer - to play a "more constructive" role, the spokesman said.
He expressed hope that the two countries will enhance economic dialogues, explore opportunities in inter-connectivity projects within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, expand cooperation in finance, environmental protection, energy conservation, and the third-party market, and promote high-quality cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea as well as speed up the process of RCEP negotiations.
Both sides now have a solid political foundation on which to make commitments to improving ties.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of China -Japan relations, and next year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
While Tokyo has taken pains to stress that the "free and open" message is not specifically aimed at China, the importance placed on coordination with each of the 10 members of ASEAN reflects Abe's desire to assert a place for Japan in the face of Beijing's rising regional influence.