The central government yesterday called on Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to meet it "halfway" to try to improve relations hurt by the territorial dispute in the East China Sea. "We hope the new Japanese administration will meet the Chinese side halfway and make concrete efforts to overcome difficulties in bilateral relations," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying , adding that such efforts were needed "to push bilateral relations back on to the normal track". Hua was speaking after Abe was selected as prime minister by Japan's lower house of parliament following victory by his Liberal Democratic Party in elections this month. "We are ready to work with the Japanese side to push forward the steady and sound development of bilateral relations," she said. China and Japan are at odds over the Diaoyu Islands - called the Senkaku Islands in Japan - that both claim but Tokyo controls. Tensions have mounted this year, with Japan recently scrambling fighter jets after a Chinese plane flew near the isles. Abe, his nation's seventh prime minister in less than seven years, replaces Yoshihiko Noda, whose Democratic Party of Japan suffered a stinging defeat at the polls. Abe quickly unveiled his new cabinet as he rushes to draft an extra budget to spur the country's flagging economy. Taro Aso, another ex-prime minister in Japan's revolving-door political system, was tapped as Abe's deputy and finance minister. Aso was branded "Japan's offensive minister" by The New York Times in a 2006 editorial after he praised aspects of Japan's colonial past, a sore point in China and the Koreas. The job of foreign minister in the new cabinet went to Fumio Kishida, who was a state minister in charge of Okinawan affairs during Abe's previous tenure from 2006 to 2007. The appointment was seen as a reflection of Abe's desire for progress on the relocation of US military bases in the southern island chain. The defence portfolio went to Itsunori Onodera, a deputy foreign minister for a year during Abe's earlier tenure and that of his successor, Yasuo Fukuda.