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Thursday, May 26, 2011
Helping hands to Mr. Kan
The perseverance that people in northeastern Japan have shown after the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated their communities March 11 has impressed many people around the world.
In Northeast Asia, anti-Japan feelings in China and South Korea seem to have receded since the catastrophe, thanks to Tohoku people's dignified behavior.
Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Naoto Kan held meetings with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on May 21 and 22 in Fukushima and Tokyo. In a sense, the timing of the summit enabled Mr. Kan to gain politically by enabling him to take advantage of the postdisaster situation.
Even so, the summit has produced meaningful results although they are not grand-scale achievements.
In preparing the summit, Mr. Kan was apparently obsessed with the idea of enhancing his political image. There is the impression that Mr. Wen and Mr. Lee were cajoled to go along with Mr. Kan's notion of what the summit should convey.
On May 19, the Global Times, under the wing of the Chinese Communist Party's organ People's Daily, had criticized Japan in its editorial for not showing diplomatic courtesy during the planning stage of the summit.
On May 21, the three leaders visited the city of Fukushima, 60 km from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, where major nuclear accidents have caused radiation leaks and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
Mr. Kan welcomed Mr. Wen and Mr. Lee at a gym where evacuees of the nuclear crisis are staying.
The three leaders taste-sampled local agricultural produce such as cherries, tomatoes and cucumbers — in a show crafted by the Japanese side to alleviate concerns that Japanese agricultural products are contaminated with radioactive substances.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Wen and Mr. Lee separately visited Miyagi Prefecture to visit disaster victims.
The meeting of the three leaders, held the next day at Tokyo's Guest House, started with a one-minute silent prayer for the souls of those who perished in the March 11 calamity.
Mr. Kan said Japan will use "revival from the disasters" as a chance to make Japan again a country full of vitality, pushing reconstruction by bringing in "vitality" from overseas countries and opening Japan to the international community.
In their joint declaration, the leaders "expressed our determination to bolster Japan's efforts to overcome this difficult situation through trilateral cooperation in various areas" — an encouraging promise for Japan, which is reeling after the catastrophe.
The declaration included a point, strongly desired by Mr. Kan, concerning efforts to minimize economic damage to Japanese exports from groundless rumors that products are contaminated with radioactive substances emitted from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The declaration stressed the importance of taking a careful approach, based on scientific evidence, to assure the safety of Japanese products that suffer from the effect of the nuclear crisis. Mr. Wen said China will partially ease restrictions on Japanese agricultural imports if Japan guarantees their safety.
The decision will apply to produce from Yamagata and Yamanashi prefectures, thus reducing the number of prefectures subject to the restriction to 10.
Mr. Wen also said China will cooperate with Japan to increase the number of Chinese tourists to Japan, which has plummeted since the March 11 disasters.
While these are welcome developments for Japan, Mr. Wen also expressed a hope that Japan will understand China and South Korea's worries about the release in April of highly radioactive water from Fukushima No. 1 into the sea.
Japan should seriously take his request to heart and disclose accurate information about the nuclear crisis without delay to both Japanese people and foreign governments.
On the issue of large-scale disasters, the three leaders agreed that if any of their countries is stricken by a such disaster in the future, the other two countries will offer their utmost support to the country, including dispatch of emergency rescue teams.
The leaders also agreed that experts from the three countries will visit the areas hit by the March 11 disasters for research. It is hoped that trilateral cooperation in disaster prevention will contribute to the lessening of friction between Japan and each of the two other countries.
On the economic front, the three leaders decided to accelerate the joint study on a trilateral free trade agreement with the aim of concluding the study within 2011, one year earlier than agreed previously. Talks on the FTA is likely to start in 2012.
A trilateral FTA would enhance cross-border economic activities among Japan, China and South Korea, whose combined gross domestic product accounts for about 20 percent of global GDP.
Mr. Kan should not forget the open and sincere manner in which Mr. Wen and Mr. Lee offered their helping hands to him at the summit. He must be careful not to waste the good will and the achievements attained at the summit.
Mr. Kan must carefully handle Japan's diplomacy toward China and South Korea. The seeds of friction, such as issues related to the Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima Islets as well as natural gas development in the East China Sea, still remain.