Summit boosts efforts to ensure nuke safety

Beijing and Seoul also made a commitment to support Tokyo’s massive reconstruction plan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In a joint declaration issued after the summit the leaders of the three East Asian nations agreed that nuclear energy remains an important option, but stressed that safety was “a prerequisite”.

The leaders pledged to work toward a framework that would allow nuclear experts to share information and data through an early notification system.

Agreement was also reached to facilitate joint programs on renewable energy and energy conservation to avoid excessive dependence on nuclear power.

The leaders promised that if a natural disaster occurred in any of their countries the other two nations would dispatch rescue teams and offer the “utmost aid”.

Experts from the three nations will conduct joint investigations in the disaster-hit areas in Japan to boost measures to prevent disasters and help rebuilding work.

Japan promised, in the declaration, to share “the lessons learned” from the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and the earthquake and tsunami that left more than 24,000 dead or missing.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to Premier Wen Jiabao for Japan’s delay in reporting its release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear complex into the Pacific. Tokyo, however, did inform Washington of the plan beforehand.

Wen urged Tokyo to continue providing timely information on the nuclear crisis and to “understand the interests and worries of a neighbor”, the Kyodo News Agency said. South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak also said timely information is necessary to assure the people of “neighboring countries”.

Wen said Beijing was willing to import more food from Japan, if safety standards were met, and South Korea promised to adopt its safety policies on “scientific evidence”.

According to Japanese foreign ministry officials, as a first step Beijing would remove two Japanese prefectures in an area near the crippled nuclear plant from a list of 12 covered by an import ban due to radiation concerns.

The officials said China would also no longer require proof of radiation checks for food with the exception of milk products, vegetables and seafood.

Kan told a joint news conference that Saturday’s visit to the city of Fukushima, about 60 km from the nuclear plant, and other disaster-hit areas by the leaders of the neighboring countries were “the most effective way to demonstrate to the world that Japan is safe and that Japanese food is safe”.

Wen and Lee were the first foreign leaders to visit Fukushima since the nuclear disaster. Both sampled locally-grown vegetables and fruit there and back in Tokyo were treated to a range of specialties from the disaster-struck area at an official dinner.

At the outset of the summit on Sunday morning, the leaders and high-ranking officials observed a moment’s silence for the victims of the Japan disaster.

“We can overcome difficulties by joining hands,” Wen said at the news briefing.

To help Japan’s rebuilding efforts, the leaders also agreed to finish joint studies on a trilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) this year, one year earlier than initially planned, to pave the way for the launch of official negotiations next year.

The FTA would account for more than 70 percent of Asia’s GDP and nearly 20 percent of the world’s and would be the largest trading bloc after the North American FTA and the European Union.

Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japan studies at Tsinghua University, said the leaders visiting the disaster-hit areas was diplomatically significant.

“There was a minor after-quake in Japan on Sunday. But Wen and Lee went to Fukushima. Leaders from Japan’s allies, such as the United States, have not done that yet,” Liu said.

“China and South Korea have helped Japan make a perfect advertisement for Japanese food and other goods in the world media,” he said.

The leaders agreed to set up a secretariat in South Korea, a move that Lian Degui, deputy director of the Japanese Studies Center at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, described as a sign of greater cooperation.

The three-nation annual meeting was first held on a regular basis in 2008. China will host the next summit in 2012.

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