Tokyo (AFP) April 30, 2011
Japan's foreign minister says the country is open for business and travel as domestic firms are recovering at "surprising speed" from the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"We promise all of you that Japan will reshape itself into a more dynamic country" through overcoming the calamity, Takeaki Matsumoto said in an article published by the International Herald Tribune on Saturday.
"Japan is and will remain open for business and travel," he said, pointing out that the World Health Organisation and others had said excessive travel restriction measures were unnecessary.
Governments around the world issued travel warnings and banned food imports after the March 11 quake and tsunami crippled a nuclear power plant which has leaked radiation in the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.
Matsumoto stressed that radiation levels in Tokyo never reached a level harmful to health and said food exports were safe as Japan had taken measures to prevent any shipments of contaminated produce.
"Naturally, such products will not be exported," he added.
Matsumoto said the government expected work at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant would soon change from "emergency response phase to the planned and stable action phase."
The foreign minister also said manufacturers in worst-hit northeastern Japan were on track for a swift recovery.
"Many affected companies and factories are recovering at surprising speed, helped by innovative approaches to tackling the crisis," he said.
"Domestic and international supply chains are being reconnected," he added. "Japan's strength for manufacturing remains on full display."
Japan's industrial production plunged 15.3 percent from February to March, the sharpest drop since records began in 1953, after the disaster crippled supply chains and forced companies to shutter plants.
earlier related report
Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who took office just two days before his country was ravaged by one of history's most powerful earthquakes on March 11, flew to Washington for talks on his first bilateral visit overseas.
"We were hit by the earthquake, but we wish to emerge stronger and to continue to fulfill our responsibility in the international community," Matsumoto said Friday after talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I would like to express our gratitude for the support given by the United States and also convey our determination to recover," he said.
Clinton and Matsumoto said they discussed disaster relief but also a range of global issues such as the Middle East along with key regional priorities for Japan such as diplomacy on North Korea and China.
Clinton said that Japan had made "critical contributions" to Afghanistan, a leading focus for the United States as it tries to find a political solution to end its decade-long military involvement.
Japan "just announced that it will continue its financial assistance to Afghanistan at the same level as before the earthquake," Clinton said.
"That is a remarkable example of both leadership and generosity that we appreciate," Clinton said. Japan in 2009 pledged up to $5 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the following five years.
Matsumoto later left Washington on a trip that will take him to Belgium, Germany and Senegal, where he will go ahead with a previously scheduled aid conference between Japan and African leaders, a Japanese official said.
The US military, which stations some 47,000 troops in Japan, mounted a round-the-block relief operation after the earthquake as it ferried supplies, repaired the key Sendai airport and helped the grisly task of searching for bodies.
The relief operation has helped ease some of the recent frictions between the United States and Japan, whose center-left government that took office in 2009 tried and failed to renegotiate the location of a key military base.
Despite the renewed spirit of alliance, some US officials have privately voiced concern that Japan could turn inward as it undertakes the massive task of rebuilding from the disaster that left nearly 26,000 people dead or missing.
The 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck just after China surpassed Japan to be the world's second-largest economy, a coincidence that some experts have said could make the disaster a symbolic milestone of Tokyo's waning influence.
The United States and especially Japan both have rocky relations with China, which has been seen as stepping up its claims to disputed territories as its economic and military clout grow.
Clinton said that she consulted with Matsumoto about the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the main forum for dialogue between China and the United States which will take place in Washington on May 9-10.
"I think there is a convergence of views between the two countries that we expect China to play a constructive role in the Asia-Pacific region," Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Hidenobu Sobashima said after the talks.
Clinton and Matsumoto also issued a joint call for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, a long source of tension with the communist state which tested atomic bombs in 2006 and 2009.
But Clinton said that North Korea needed to reduce tensions with South Korea before the United States would consider calls backed by China to resume six-nation denuclearization talks.
"We would like to see them engaging in meaningful dialogue with the South in the first instance prior to any other steps that might be taken," Clinton said.
Matsumoto said Clinton voiced understanding for Japan's concerns about the fate of Japanese civilians who were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime's spies.
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Tokyo (AFP) April 29, 2011
The Dalai Lama offered a renewed prayer for disaster-hit Japan Friday, and urged the nation to look to the future. "What I can do is to pray and offer my sincere condolences to the victims," he said on his first visit to Japan since the nation's biggest recorded earthquake and tsunami ravaged the northern Pacific coastline on March 11. The disaster left more than 25,000 dead or missing ... read more
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