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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Disaster response top issue between Japan, ASEAN


The March 11 natural catastrophe and related nuclear crisis have made disaster management a top diplomatic issue between the country and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Like quake-prone Japan, several ASEAN member states are vulnerable to natural disasters. Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are regular victims of typhoons, floods and cyclones, while Indonesia and the Philippines are often hit by quakes and other calamities.

Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are also planning to build nuclear plants to meet rising demand for electricity amid economic growth.

But radioactive leaks from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear hit by last month's quake and tsunami have sparked global concerns about the safety of atomic power, especially when Japan on April 12 raised the severity of the accident at the plant to level 7 from 5, putting it on a par with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto told ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan in Jakarta on Saturday that Tokyo is considering expanding cooperation in disaster management with ASEAN through forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, a regional security meeting slated for July on Bali, Indonesia, and the East Asia Summit, which is expected to take place on Bali in late October.

Matsumoto, for example, proposed that the ARF hold its Disaster Relief Exercise every two years. ASEAN welcomed his proposal at a Japan-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting Saturday in the Indonesian capital, a Japanese official said.

At the meeting, ASEAN ministers expressed their "solidarity and support" to Japan in its recovery and reconstruction efforts.

But it remains to be seen what specific actions ASEAN or its individual members will take to help Japan recover, other than donations and relief missions sent to Japan so far on a bilateral basis.

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