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Chinese, Japanese Officials Meet as Regional Summit Falls Apart

What were to be summit meetings of East Asian leaders have collapsed completely as a tropical storm bears down on the summit site. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from the Philippine city of Cebu, a meeting of the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers is all that saved the event from complete failure.

Cebu was drenched by rain Saturday as a typhoon headed toward the island-province. The storm also squelched months of excitement and preparation for the biggest diplomatic event planned for the Philippines in a long time.

The last-minute postponement of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits, now rescheduled for some time in January, also followed warnings by the United States, Britain and Australia of possible terrorist attacks during the meetings.

However, Philippine officials were emphatic that it was the weather and nothing else that caused the postponement. Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo Saturday said the delegates appreciated the concern "the Philippine government has shown for the safety and welfare of all the participants. They also fully understood that this decision will allow the Philippine government to give its undivided attention to any effects this major (weather) disturbance may have."

Typhoon Utor is due to pass over Cebu on Sunday, just as heads of state and government were scheduled to be arriving. Although Utor is much less powerful than Typhoon Durian, which caused more than a thousand deaths in the Philippines last week, landing government leaders in the middle of a major storm was apparently considered too great a risk.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Li Shaoxing and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso had already arrived in Cebu for a ministerial meeting scheduled for Saturday. They proceeded to hold an hour-long meeting Saturday to discuss bilateral differences brought about by territorial and historical disputes.

In a sign of mending relations, Japan invited Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to visit Japan early next year.

One of the more eagerly anticipated events here was to be a three-way summit on the sidelines of the meeting among the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea. This would have been the first such meeting among these three Asian powers in two years, and would have been another sign of warming relations between Japan and its two neighbors.

But that meeting was canceled along with the rest of the summit.

The Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers also talked Saturday about another item that was due to be a major focus of the summit, the stalled North Korea nuclear talks.

Li Zhaoxing and Taro Aso said both their countries would work for progress in getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons. Efforts are being made to resume the talks later month, but the host, Beijing, has not yet officially announced a date.

The annual ASEAN and East Asia Summits bring together the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, and their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea. Leaders of Australia, New Zealand, India and East Timor were also expected to attend.