Squaring Asia’s Nuclear Triangle

TOKYO – Just before the fourth trilateral summit between Japan, China, and South Korea began on May 21, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan jointly visited the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, offering encouragement to the disaster’s victims living in evacuation centers. Since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March, Kan has aimed at lifting the bans that many countries have imposed on imports of Japanese agricultural products, and so offered the two heads of state cherries from Fukushima in a bid to highlight their safety.

At the summit, the three countries issued a joint statement outlining cooperation on a wide range of issues, including nuclear safety, disaster prevention, economic growth, and the environment. The lessons learned from Japan’s earthquake and nuclear accident would be shared with China, South Korea, and the wider international community, and, in an addendum, the Japanese authorities promised to “continue to provide information…with the greatest transparency possible.”

In fact, the Kan administration – which loathes the involvement of bureaucrats, who are professionals, in managing public affairs – delayed notifying neighboring countries when it was forced to order the release of water containing low concentrations of radioactive material. For Kan, the real priority was his government’s effort to maintain its grip on power, not reassuring Japan’s neighbors of the actions it was taking to contain a potential threat to their citizens.

The codicil to the summit communiqué was created to address these concerns. It emphasized the importance of sharing information about nuclear safety, and incorporated specific measures, including the creation of a framework for rapid notification in the event of an emergency and exchanges of experts to assist in managing future nuclear crises and ensuring that regional concerns are taken into account.