China, South Korea leaders visit disaster-hit Japan

Lee Myung-bak and Wen Jiabao will meet with Japanese PM in Fukushima City.

Last Updated: May 21, 2011, 12:21 PM IST

Fukushima: Leaders of China and South Korea arrived in northeastern Japan on Saturday and mourned victims of the country`s massive earthquake and tsunami, ahead of their three-way summit with Japan.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, wearing a Navy-blue work outfit, placed a bouquet of flowers and offered a prayer before vast debris in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, where the giant wave struck on March 11.

Lee told reporters that he wants to support children who were shocked by the disaster, and hopes that Japan will recover as quickly as possible, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao separately arrived at Sendai airport, and plans to visit shelters used by evacuees in Natori, Foreign Ministry officials said.

The two men will then move to Fukushima City later in the day in a gesture of solidarity over the ongoing nuclear crisis -- but with Tokyo`s neighbours reportedly concerned by its actions.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will join them in Fukushima and visit evacuees who have left their homes near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from the city.

The power station has leaked radiation into the air, sea and land since it was crippled by the 9.0 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami which led to the world`s worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.

Around 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, to begin later in Tokyo, the visiting leaders are expected to reaffirm their support for Japan`s efforts to recover from the triple disaster, 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, alongside trade discussions.

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 emergencies, they added.

"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 represents a big step in helping improve relations."

Bureau Report