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Leaders of Japan, China, S. Korea meet in Fukushima

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 21, 2011
Leaders of Japan, China and South Korea were to gather in Fukushima City Saturday in a gesture of solidarity over the ongoing nuclear crisis -- but with Tokyo's neighbours reportedly concerned by its actions.

Ahead of a three-way summit, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak are to visit evacuees who have left their homes near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The power station, 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from the city, has leaked radiation into the air, sea and land since it was crippled by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11 in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

About 24,000 people were left dead or missing by the quake and tsunami along the country's northeast coast, according to the latest police count.

At the weekend summit, which begins in Tokyo later, the visiting leaders are expected to reaffirm their support for Japan's efforts to recover from the triple catastrophe, government sources said.

But according to the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, China and South Korea rejected opening the meeting in Fukushima after Tokyo allowed the plant to release radioactive water into the sea without consulting them in advance.

"Prime Minister Kan, haunted by sagging approval ratings, may want to emphasise his diplomatic points," the daily said. "But it is highly possible that he will be put on a 'bed of nails'" due to the mistrust, it added.

Kan leads a centre-left government and has been struggling to lift his opinion poll ratings, which hover around 20 percent.

Kyodo news agency reported that the idea of organising an "opening ceremony" for the summit in Fukushima was abandoned due to difficulty in securing an appropriate venue.

At the two-day summit, nuclear safety, cooperation in disaster preparedness, and food safety are expected to top the agenda, along with trade issues.

The three-nation meeting, first held on a regular basis in 2008, takes on added significance this year as the world watches Tokyo's efforts to contain the Fukushima crisis.

Tokyo is expected to offer to share "lessons" it has learned from the natural disasters and nuclear accident with Beijing and Seoul as well as the wider international community, the government sources said.

The three leaders are likely to agree to strengthen cooperation in disaster relief, such as conducting a joint rescue drill and working to create an information-sharing system for emergency situations, they added.

Before gathering in Fukushima, Wen and Lee were scheduled to separately travel further north to disaster-hit areas near the city of Sendai.

"I feel very grateful that Premier Wen and President Lee are to visit disaster zones and encourage people there," Kan told a news conference earlier this week. "This represent a big step in helping improve relations."

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