Mori pledges help for South Pacific nations

Japan-SPF summit focuses on globalization challenges, new partnerships

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MIYAZAKI — Leaders of Japan and 16 South Pacific island countries and territories convened here Saturday to discuss ways to meet the challenge of globalization under a renewed partnership. In an opening address for the second Japan-South Pacific Forum Summit in Miyazaki, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori expressed Japan’s intention to increase cooperation in a wide array of fields under Tokyo’s new foreign policy initiative, “Pacific Common Frontiers Initiative.”

“Three years have passed since our first gathering. Today, the billow of globalization is surging within our ocean, whether we like it or not,” he said. “While globalization provides enormous benefits to Pacific islands, which are physically isolated by the ocean, these weak economies will be exposed to intensifying global competition.”

Mori pledged Japan’s fresh economic assistance for forum members, except for Australia and New Zealand, worth more than $4 million, to support efforts to cope with advancing information technology, infectious diseases and other problems.

For Mori, the Japan-SPF summit — named the Pacific Island Leaders Meeting (PALM) 2000 — is the first international conference he has hosted since he took office earlier this month, replacing his predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, who suffered a severe stroke and who remains in a coma.

The one-day Miyazaki summit, an idea Obuchi proposed in a meeting December in Tokyo with SPF chairman and Palau President Kunio Nakamura, is also aimed at reflecting the region’s views on the Okinawa Group of Eight summit Japan is to chair July 21-23.

In his address, Mori focused on issues based on three pillars: sustainable development of Pacific island nations, cooperation in tackling common regional and global problems and an enhanced partnership between Japan and the SPF.

Regarding development, Japan will use $1 million from its contributions to the U.N. Development Program to help South Pacific islands tackle the growing “digital divide” information technology gap between developed and developing countries in their ability to take advantage of the benefits of IT, Mori said.

Mori said Japan is committed to sending more than 3,000 people in the next five years, including experts, young and senior volunteers, to help SPF members develop human resources. Tokyo will also increase the number of students from the region, Mori said.

As to tackling regional and global problems,Mori underlined the importance of dealing with climate global warming, which poses an imminent danger of submergence to Pacific islands.

Concerning human security, $2 million will be disbursed from the Human Security Fund, which Japan established at the U.N., for the use of U.N. organs to deal with AIDS and other infectious diseases, narcotics and other problems in South Pacific, Mori said.

As part of efforts to nurture ties between Japan and the SPF, another $1 million will be extended to the SPF for promoting intellectual and cultural exchanges and sending a Japanese mission for that purpose, Mori said.

“Our first summit was almost entirely concerned with economic matters,” forum chairman Nakamura said in his address. “While economic concerns are also major part of PALM 2000, the agenda confirms that our relationship and mutual interest have moved beyond fiscal issues to include social, political and cultural environmental and security issues.”

The 16-member forum consists of Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Australia, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands were represented by their foreign ministers, while New Caledonia, which is a French territory, participated as an observer.

During the discussion session later in the day, the leaders were expected to discuss issues ranging from economic development of Pacific islands to the region’s environmental concerns, based on the outline Mori presented in his speech, Japanese officials said.

Separate from the fresh economic aid, Japan would promise to increase the amount of its annual official development assistance to the forum members, except for Australia and New Zealand, by some $5 million in total, the officials said.

For SPF countries, Japan is the second largest aid donor after Australia, which provides nearly 44 percent of the aid. Japan’s ODA to SPF nations and territories stands at some $150 million annually, or about 2 percent of Tokyo’s ODA.

Japan’s assistance is aimed at promoting SPF efforts to achieve economic independence through human resource development, better economic management and promotion of trade, investment and tourism, the officials said.

While expressing readiness to increase development assistance in these areas, Japan intends to attach due attention to SPF concerns over global environmental issues, especially global warming, the officials said.

It is feared that some Pacific islands will submerge if the sea level rises as a result of global warming. Thus, these countries have called for quick progress in the so-called COP process to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan and the SPF will also discuss possibilities to jointly develop marine resources in the Pacific, including the promotion of fisheries and seabed mining while confirming efforts to conserve those natural resources, the officials said.

Meanwhile, the leaders were expected to focus on comprehensively enhancing Japan-SPF ties through human exchanges on both public and private levels, the officials said.

At the conclusion of the session, the leaders were expected to address these issues in a joint communique, tentatively named the Miyazaki Initiative, and possibly adopt a separate joint statement on environmental issues, the officials said.

With Saturday’s summit, Mori has made his debut on the international stage, paving the way to successfully concluding the Okinawa summit as the G8 chairman.

As part of preparation for the Okinawa summit, Mori is scheduled to visit leaders of other G8 countries during the upcoming Golden Week.

Mori will leave for Russia on April 28 and hold talks with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin the following day in St. Petersburg.

He will then make a series of visits to Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States for top-level talks. He is scheduled to return to Japan on May 6.