OSAKA — When the foreign ministers of Japan, China, and South Korea gather in Kyoto this weekend for their long-delayed summit, they will do so amid rising public concern in all three countries about radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the future of nuclear energy in East Asia.
Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto will meet with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan on Saturday afternoon for a trilateral meeting and separate bilateral meetings. The summit, originally scheduled to last two days, has been shortened to just a day due to the disaster.
South Korea had originally hoped one result from Saturday’s gathering would be strong support from the ministers for an agreement between Japan and South Korea to hand over more than 1,200 volumes of Korean texts, including a collection of Chosun Dynasty royal protocols that were seized by Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Kim informally agreed to the return last December.
But concerns over the past have taken a back seat to the present nuclear crisis, as the public and governments of South Korea and China have been sharply critical in recent days of Japan’s response, and raised questions about the dangers of radiation fallout.
Earlier this week, China called on Japan to communicate better on the crisis after reports of panic-buying of salt and iodine tablets in Guangdong Province due to fears of radiation contamination by people living in coastal provinces facing Japan.
China has attempted to calm such fears, saying there is no reason to worry, but added that Japan needs to keep neighboring countries up to date with developments.
“We hope the Japanese side will release information, as well as its evaluation and prediction of the situation to the public, in a timely and precise manner,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing.
China currently operates 13 nuclear reactors, is building another two dozen and has long-term plans to build a further 50. But those plans were put on hold Wednesday when Beijing announced it is suspending approval for new plants until new earthquake safety rules are drawn up.
South Korea has said radiation from the Fukushima plant is unlikely to affect the Korean Peninsula due to prevailing westerly winds. While not as critical as China, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters in Seoul earlier this week there had been no formal communication between Tokyo and Seoul following the blasts.
At a Friday afternoon news conference, Matsumoto told reporters that Saturday’s meeting would likely focus on earthquake-related issues, and that he would update Yang and Kim on relief and rescue operations and the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
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