BEIJING (Kyodo) Prime Minister Taro Aso is considering visiting Beijing at the end of March for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, sources familiar with Japan-China relations said Tuesday.

Tokyo and Beijing are making final arrangements so Aso can visit China for two days from March 28.

Aso and the Chinese leaders are expected to discuss joint gas exploration in disputed areas in the East China Sea and the case of tainted Chinese-made “gyoza” dumplings that sickened people in Japan, the sources said.

Their meeting will go ahead despite Beijing’s issuing a stern protest over recent remarks by Aso in connection with disputed islets in the East China Sea. China criticized Aso’s comments that the Japan-administered islets are Japanese territory and fall under the security alliance with the United States. The islets, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, are claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan.

Aso and the Chinese leaders are expected to discuss the timing for starting negotiations over a proposed joint gas field development.

In the case of the tainted gyoza, Aso will stress the importance for an early resolution of the issue, which China says it has been conducting a criminal investigation into, the sources said.

Aso and the Chinese leaders are expected to agree that their countries will cooperate in combating global warming and the financial crisis affecting Asia, the sources said.

The leaders of Japan and China are also expected to confirm their intent to advance the six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea and resolve the matter of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang’s agents.

On the proposed expansion of the U.N. Security Council, Aso plans to ask for China’s support in helping Japan gain permanent membership.

Last May, Japan and China agreed on an annual reciprocal visit by both countries’ leaders. Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Wen met in Beijing in late February and agreed the two sides would try to arrange Aso’s visit.

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