Asia-Pacific

Japan earthquake: Clinton announces reconstruction plan

Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto (right) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Tokyo on 17 April 2011
Image caption Before last month's quake, Japan-US ties had been strained by a dispute over an American military base

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Japan on an official visit to show solidarity five weeks after the devastating quake and tsunami.

She announced in Tokyo that the US and Japan had agreed on a "public-private partnership for reconstruction" under the guidance of Japan's government.Japan unveils nuclear crisis plan

Japan, she said, was "indispensable to global problem-solving".

America has won Japanese admiration for lending its navy to help in relief efforts and offering nuclear expertise.

Before the quake, ties had been strained by a US military base dispute.

But, in a view shared by many survivors of the disaster, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said in an editorial last week that Japanese people had "nothing but the highest praise for the assistance provided by US personnel".

US assistance would, it predicted, "be an important contribution toward strengthening the alliance" between the two countries.

Emperor's tea party

"It is a great honour to be here and to demonstrate our very strong bonds of friendship that go very deep into the hearts of both our people," Mrs Clinton told Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto on arrival.

"There has been an outpouring of concern, sympathy and admiration for the great resilience and spirit the Japanese people have shown."

She is expected to spend half a day in the Japanese capital Tokyo, during which she will also meet Prime Minister Naoto Kan and attend a tea party hosted by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

US assistance to Japan has included the dispatch of nuclear experts to tackle the crisis at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

It has supplied fire engines, pumps and radiation protective suits, as well as barges to carry fresh water to cool the reactors.

As part of its Operation Tomodachi, named after the Japanese word for friend, the US has mobilised more than 20,000 personnel, about 160 aircraft and 20 ships.

Kan under pressure

However, US military bases on the south Japanese island of Okinawa have long been a sore point between the two countries.

Mr Kan's predecessor as prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, resigned after being accused of back-tracking on promises to remove at least one of them.

The current prime minister has been facing criticism at home for his handling of the disaster, with some US officials reportedly voicing dissatisfaction with the information shared by Japan about the situation at the nuclear plant.

Levels of radioactivity in seawater near the plant rose sharply on Friday, raising the possibility of new leaks.

In a commentary published in US newspapers, Mr Kan said his top priority was bringing the nuclear crisis under control.

"I pledge that the Japanese government will promptly and thoroughly verify the cause of this incident, as well as share information and the lessons learned with the rest of the world to help prevent such accidents in the future," he added.

Tetsuro Kato, professor of politics at Waseda University, believes the real aim of Mrs Clinton's visit is to see "whether the Kan government is really capable of handling this crisis".

"I think the conclusion will be that it is not," he told AFP.

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