South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made consolation visits to disaster-stricken Japanese regions on Saturday, expressing sympathy for victims of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident and pledging to provide active support for recovery efforts.
Lee made the visits to Sendai and Fukushima, which are among the hardest-hit regions, en route to Tokyo for an annual tripartite summit with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expected to focus on nuclear safety and disaster management.
"This was a disaster that went beyond the limit of human capabilities," a solemn-faced Lee said during a visit to a tsunami-razed area where ships and vehicles still remained abandoned in the middle of farmland after being swept away by the March 11 tsunami.
"I offer words of comfort to the Japanese people. In particular, children must have suffered a lot of shock. I hope they will recover quickly," Lee said. "South Korean people have asked me to convey heartfelt sympathies. ... The world was surprised at the restrained attitude and the courage the Japanese people have shown."
Lee also held a meeting with South Koreans living in Sendai.
From Sendai, Lee traveled to Fukushima, home to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that has been leaking radiation in the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, on a joint visit with Japanese Prime Minister Kan and Chinese Premier Wen.
The embattled Japanese government of Prime Minister Kan had hoped to hold the summit's opening ceremony in Fukushima to show the world that the region is safe and that his government is bringing the situation under control. But the proposal went awry as China opposed it.
The trilateral summit, set for Sunday, will focus on nuclear safety and disaster management, and the three nations will issue a joint leaders' declaration calling for closer cooperation in handling disasters, enhancing nuclear safety and promoting sustainable growth, officials said.
The leaders are also expected to discuss the possibility of forging a three-way free trade agreement, as well as how to operate a joint secretariat to be established in Seoul later this year to handle cooperation projects among the countries, the officials said.
North Korea is also expected to be high on the agenda for Lee's talks with Wen, as the meeting will come after the North's leader, Kim Jong-il, has been confirmed to be making a trip to China, his third in a little more than a year.
South Korea, Japan and China have alternately hosted three-way summits annually since 2008. Their combined gross national products account for nearly 20 percent of the world's total gross domestic products, and their combined population represents 22.3 percent of the world's population.