Japan and China's foreign ministers have met in New Delhi on the sidelines of a South Asian regional summit. The face-to-face meeting cleared final hurdles for a visit to Japan by China's prime minister. As VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, Japanese officials are expecting the trip to solve a contentious issue between the two Asian nations over maritime gas exploration.

Japanese officials here say they expect an agreement to be made on joint gas exploration in the East China Sea between Tokyo and Beijing when China's prime minister visits Japan later this month.

The trip to Tokyo by Wen Jiabao will be the first by a Chinese prime minister there in seven years.

The contentious issue of maritime gas exploration was discussed Tuesday evening in a 45-minute meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing.

Japanese foreign ministry press secretary Mitsuo Sakaba says the two ministers agreed to speed up talks to reach an agreement in time for Mr. Wen's three-day visit to Tokyo beginning April 11.

"But negotiation or some consultation has been taking place still until the last moment of China's prime minister's visit," he said.

Japan and China have held six rounds of talks at the ministry level to resolve the dispute over exploration for potentially lucrative gas in disputed waters between the two countries. Japan has accused China of sucking undersea resources from the Japanese side of the median line.

Both the foreign ministers are in New Delhi as observers to the annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Japanese officials also said that the Japan-China summit in Tokyo will include an unprecedented "high level dialogue" of economic-related ministers of the two countries.

While economic ties between Japan and China are strong, the political relationship remains cool. China has repeatedly accused Japan of being insensitive to imperial Japan's brutal occupation of much of the Asian mainland before and during the Second World War.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to improve ties with Beijing since he took office last year. But tempers flared again in the Chinese capital last month when Mr. Abe said there was no evidence Asian women were forced into prostitution during World War II by Japan's military. The Japanese leader subsequently said his government, however, does not reject a 1993 apology made by Tokyo regarding the enslavement of the women.