Sino-Japanese ties were at a 'crucial juncture', President Hu Jintao told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday when extending an invitation to the Japanese leader to visit Beijing this year. The two leaders had two brief discussions on the sidelines of the Apec summit - on Saturday night during the banquet and yesterday during the summit's final meeting - which Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Mitsuo Sakaba said 'covered all issues originally intended to discuss' and in 'a positive atmosphere'. The failure of Chinese and Japanese leaders to hold a bilateral meeting had prompted doubts about the strength of the relationship. On Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said people should not place too much emphasis on the absence of a bilateral meeting. 'This is not a matter of being disappointed or not. The Sino-Japanese relationship is enjoying good momentum,' Mr Liu said. 'I don't think we need to deliberately pursue a meeting, or meet for the sake of meeting. It will be beneficial as long as the momentum is maintained.' Mr Sakaba also sought to play down the absence of a bilateral meeting, saying it was due to scheduling problems and 'does not mean that the priority was low'. China Central Television reported yesterday that Mr Hu had held meetings with other Apec leaders but did not mention his informal meetings with Mr Abe. In his news conference yesterday, Mr Abe did not mention China, and referred only to meeting the leaders of the United States, Russia, Australia and Mexico. In his meetings with Mr Abe, Mr Hu stressed that it was important to maintain the momentum in improving ties. Energy and environmental protection were two 'most promising areas for co-operation,' Mr Hu said, according to Mr Sakaba. Mr Hu extended his invitation for Mr Abe to visit Beijing for a second time since Mr Abe took office last year, but there was no mention of a reciprocal visit by Mr Hu to Japan. Mr Sakaba confirmed Japan's 'standing invitation for Mr Hu to make an official visit to Japan', and hoped Mr Hu would visit Japan separately from his likely attendance at the G8 summit in Japan next year. Mr Hu had said that a visit to Japan this week by Jia Qinglin , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, 'is important for Japan-China relations', according to Mr Sakaba.