Business, Economics and Jobs

Japan quake prompts pity, angst in Asia


A soldier carries an elderly man on his back to a shelter in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture on March 12, 2011.


Yomiuri Shimbun

BANGKOK, Thailand — In the wake of Japan’s tsunami horrors, even rival China had to suspend its simmering diplomatic feud with Japan.

“From just across a narrow strip of water,” China’s state-run Xinhua media outlet editorialized, “the Chinese people sympathize deeply with the Japanese in this monstrous natural disaster.” One Chinese legislator “burst into tears” while watching the news on TV, Xinhua wrote in a separate article.

With the notable exception of North Korea, which broadcast news of Japan’s tsunami two days late, practically all of Asia has offered cash, supplies, relief workers or at least sympathy to Japan.

But there is also plenty to fret about in a region heavily reliant on Japan’s investment power. Panic over Japan’s potential nuclear emergencies have also shaken Southeast Asian hopes that nuclear power will solve its skyrocketing energy demands.

Aid: Taiwan, a former Japanese colony, has pledged far and away the largest Asian donation to Japan’s recovery: more than $3.3 million. Thailand has promised $164,000 and China, through its Red Cross, will donate $152,000.

China has also offered up its military search-and-rescue personnel, as well as four tons of needed equipment including power generators. South Korea has deployed more than 100 relief workers to Japan. Indonesia and Thailand, which looked to Japan for aid after a devastating 2004 tsunami, are both dispatching smaller teams.

Nuclear fears: Nuclear energy is hoped to supply a large portion of future electricity needs in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. The region will see its energy demand shoot up nearly 75 percent by 2030, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But Japan’s nuclear meltdown is spooking Southeast Asian officials. There are no nuclear plants in the region as of now. But in Thailand, where plans for two plants await full approval, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told Thai-language media that “this experience from Japan will probably effect our decision moving forward.”

“We have to fully demonstrate these safety systems, especially in moments following calamity or terrorism,” he said.

Disaster-prone Indonesia stalled plans for a nuclear plant several years ago but Vietnam is moving ahead with a goal to construct 13 reactors, largely with Russia’s help.

Taiwan, which warned its citizens of radioactive rain from Japan, is home to three nuclear plants. Each can resist up to 7.0-magnitude earthquakes, a plant official told Focus Taiwan News Channel. The quake off Japan’s coast, however, registered at a magnitude of 9.0.

Economic damage: As Japan turns inward to recover from what its prime minister calls the “worst crisis since World War II,” Asian officials are anxious that major Japanese investments will stall or possibly dry up.

Japan invests more than $5 billion each year in ASEAN’s 10 countries.

Last year in Thailand alone, Japanese firms proposed $3.3 million in investments — triple that of European firms, according to the Bangkok Post. Japan’s ports are also now closed and unable to take Thai shipments of vehicles, electronics and food that sustain Thailand’s export-based economy.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is counting on a $1.5 billion Japanese investment for one of its most sorely needed projects: a subway and elevated rail system in traffic-choked Jakarta. Officials predict construction will begin next year despite the tsunami, according to the Jakarta Globe.