PIX11.COM-TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's economy is in a "severe condition" with no quick recovery in sight following a triple disaster triggered by the March 11 earthquake that has sent service-sector sentiment plummeting the most on record, the government said on Friday.
While Japan confronts the economic impact of the disaster, it also faces increasing alarm from its neighbors with China expressing concern at the pumping of radioactive water into the sea from a crippled nuclear plant.
China's Foreign Ministry said it would "closely" monitor Japan's actions to end the crisis at the plant, where engineers are battling to contain radiation leaks. It demanded accurate information from Tokyo.
"As Japan's neighbor, we naturally express our concern about this," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.
China is the first nation to publicly express its concern over a crisis that has lasted close to a month. Other countries have banned or restricted food imports from Japan over radiation fears.
"We ask that Japan reports the relevant information to the Chinese side in a swift, comprehensive and accurate way."
Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns, and a sharp drop in the number of tourists have left the world's third largest economy reeling. Many economists expect it to slip into recession this year as factory output and exports suffer.
The crippled Fukushima Daiicho nuclear power plant north of Tokyo means power shortages and supply disruptions that will leave the economy weak for some time, Japan's central bank said on Friday.
The Cabinet Office's assessment was equally bleak.
"Japan's economy is suddenly in a severe condition due to the effects of the earthquake," it said after releasing a monthly survey of hotel workers, restaurant staff and taxi drivers that showed a record fall in confidence to levels last seen during the depths of the global financial crisis.
In an obvious sign of the downturn; taxis park in long lines in central Tokyo each night, their drivers staying warm by idling the motor as they wait forlornly for a fare.
Japan is facing its worst crisis since World War Two after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a huge tsunami battered its northeast coast, leaving nearly 28,000 dead or missing and damaging six nuclear reactors north of Tokyo.
The Tokyo area and regions further north make up half of Japan's economy, Nomura research shows.
A strong 7.1 magnitude aftershock on Thursday night -- one of the biggest of more than 400 aftershocks above magnitude 5.0 -- shook the already ravaged northeast.
It forced two companies, including electronics giant Sony Corp, to stop production due to power cuts. At least two people were killed after the tremor.
There was a brief scare when water leaks were found on Friday at a second nuclear plant, Onagawa, in the northeast, but Japan's nuclear safety agency said it had not detected any change in radiation levels.
NO CHANGE IN RADIATION
A relieved Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which operates Fukushima, said Thursday's quake had not caused any more damage. It briefly evacuated workers because of a tsunami alert, although that was later withdrawn.
The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog sounded an encouraging note when one of its officials said there were signs of progress in stabilizing the Fukushima plant, though the situation remained very serious.