IWAKI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced at a Pacific island summit on Saturday a fresh aid package worth more than ¥55 billion over the next three years to help such nations deal with the impact of global warming and natural disasters.
Japan’s pledge to improve the islands’ resiliency at the two-day meeting in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, not only reflects its desire to cooperate with the resource-rich region over fisheries and maritime issues but also comes amid an increase in China’s maritime assertiveness and economic clout there.
“What we should have are two-way relations that are . . . entirely free of threats using force or coercion. That is the order for a society of Pacific citizens,” Abe said in unveiling a new vision for Tokyo’s diplomacy toward the region, apparently with China in mind.
Abe made another indirect reference to China’s maritime forays at a joint news conference, wrapping up the seventh Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting.
“As maritime nations that share the Pacific, we advanced our cooperation in maritime issues. We (also) reaffirmed the importance of maintaining maritime order in line with the principles of international law,” Abe said.
Standing beside him, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau welcomed Japan’s leadership and partnership in issues of “common values and interest,” as stated in the leaders’ declaration adopted at the summit, and said the islands will cooperate in the region’s development.
Abe and Remengesau co-chaired the meeting.
The summit brought together Japan and the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, which groups Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The leaders of the Pacific island states and ministers from Australia and New Zealand participated in the latest summit at Spa Resort Hawaiians, a Hawaii-style leisure complex.
In the declaration, the 17 nations agreed to maintain maritime order in line with international law and stressed the “importance of exercising self-restraint and peacefully resolving international disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force.”
To better tackle climate change and natural calamities, Abe called for a “community committed to the equality of all before the law, which places importance on democracy and has great regard for the human rights of each individual.”
“It is a commitment to make our ocean a sea that is both pacific and prosperous and a place that brings a promising future to each and every person living there,” he said.
The latest aid package exceeds Japan’s pledge of around ¥40 billion, made at the previous summit in 2012 in Okinawa Prefecture.
On top of the new financial aid, Abe announced boosting people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the region to the scale of roughly 4,000 people, saying, “We will also push forward in two-way exchanges and training of human resources to serve as assistance in cultivating both expertise and technical skills.”
To more frequently discuss maritime and other issues of common interest, Abe said that Japan and Pacific island leaders will meet again when the U.N. General Assembly convenes in the fall.
The leaders will meet annually in principle, on the occasion of the General Assembly, a Japanese official said.
The declaration sets out seven pillars of cooperation — disaster risk reduction, climate change, environment, people-to-people exchanges, sustainable development, maritime issues and fisheries, and trade, investment and tourism.
Measures to help the Pacific island nations combat climate change include Japan’s establishment of the Pacific Climate Change Center to help train people. A new program to train young leaders in the Pacific will also be launched, the declaration says.
To tap into the islands’ tourism potential, the leaders endorsed Japan’s proposal to host a Pacific Islands Tourism Ministers’ Meeting this year, the declaration stated.
The declaration also notes that Japan and members of the forum will speed up efforts to collect the remains of Japanese war dead in the island states, where some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place, and reaffirm their cooperation over reforming the U.N. Security Council.
With the summit being held in Fukushima Prefecture, the leaders reaffirmed the need for the international community to be updated about the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, including “its effect on the ocean and marine environment,” according to the declaration.
After the summit, Abe met bilaterally with leaders of the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands to unveil aid on infrastructure development and climate change. He also met with Australia’s foreign minister.
Japan has hosted the summit with the Pacific island nations once every three years since 1997.