Australia PM vows to back disaster-hit Japan
Tokyo (AFP) April 21, 2011
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard vowed on Thursday to help Japan recover from last month's earthquake and tsunami by securing natural resources and energy supplies for the Asian country.
Gillard arrived in Tokyo late Wednesday on a four-day visit to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan and visit northeastern Japan, hit by the March 11 disaster that has left more than 27,000 people dead or missing.
"Australia will do anything it can to assist during this very difficult period," Gillard said at a news conference after her talks with Kan.
Gillard said she told Kan Australia "will continue to be a reliable supply of energy into the future.
"Particularly now the people in Japan need new energy sources because of the nuclear emergency."
Resource-poor Japan is reliant on energy imports and nuclear power to produce electricity but power generation has been hit by the disaster which damaged several atomic plants. Australia is also a key supplier of uranium.
Kan vowed to review the accident at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power station and share the experiences gained with the international community.
"The two prime ministers recognised the need to enhance their cooperation in the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency to globally strengthen the safety standards of nuclear power generation," they said in a joint statement.
Kan and Gillard also said they would hold further talks on a free-trade agreement.
The Australian prime minister earlier pledged to ensure supplies of gas and rare earths to support Japan in its recovery.
"Over the next few years Australia will become Japan's most important supplier of liquefied natural gas, as we are already with coal and iron ore," Gillard said in a speech at a meeting with Japanese business leaders.
"Japan can certainly continue to rely on Australia as a reliable source of supply at this difficult time," she said.
Japan is Australia's second largest trade partner, after China.
"We are also committed to being a secure and reliable supplier to Japan of rare earth metals, which are so important to advanced manufacturing," Gillard added.
Attention has shifted to Australia's nascent rare earths industry after China, which dominates global production, began restricting exports of the metals which are vital in making many high-tech products.
Gillard also met Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at their residence, voicing her condolences for victims of the calamity, Japan's worst since World War II.
She said the imperial couple also thanked Australia for its help.
"They also inquired about how we were responding and overcoming from our summer of natural disasters. They were very interested to hear how Queensland and other parts of the country were going to get over the impacts of flood and cyclone," she told reporters.
Gillard, on her first visit to Japan since the disaster struck, plans to visit evacuation centres in the northeast town of Minamisanriku on Saturday.
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