China, SKorea leaders tour devastated Japan region

By JAY ALABASTER | May 20, 2011 | 11:58 PM EDT

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak visits the earthquake-affected area in Natori, northeastern Japan, on Saturday May 21, 2011. Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea plan to visit evacuation centers and areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake in northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Koichi Kamoshida, Pool)

NATORI, Japan (AP) — The leaders of China and South Korea, in Japan for a weekend summit, toured Japan's devastated north Saturday to show their support for earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived in Sendai city late Saturday morning and immediately headed to devastated nearby areas, offering a wreath of flowers and a silent prayer.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived later and followed a similar schedule. The two leaders were to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Fukushima City and return to Tokyo for a banquet before summit talks on Sunday.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami left more than 24,000 people dead or missing and sparked an ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. China and South Korea have been critical of Japan's response to the nuclear crisis, particularly about the release of radiation into the ocean.

Japan hopes the visit by the two leaders will help smooth over concerns. The summit was expected to focus on the nuclear crisis and ways for each country to help Japan's recovery.

Tokyo had reportedly wanted to formally start the summit in Fukushima, but that plan had to be scrapped because of logistical issues. Fukushima City is about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the crippled nuclear plant.

After placing the flowers in a rubble-covered neighborhood, Lee said South Korea would do all it can to help Japan.