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Palau President Kunio Nakamura will visit Japan as an official government guest next month in a symbolic move aimed at deepening Japan’s relations with Pacific island countries.

It is unusual for the Japanese government to invite the leader of a relatively small country — just 19,000 people — as a government guest, the second-highest level of official recognition for visiting dignitaries. Nakamura’s visit will mark the first time a leader of Palau has been invited in this capacity.

Nakamura, a second-generation Japanese, is to visit for a few days around Nov. 13 to hold talks with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and meet with the Emperor, just before Mori leaves for Brunei for the Nov. 15-16 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, government sources said.

The government will announce Nakamura’s visit after a Cabinet meeting today, the sources said.

The visit highlights a series of Japanese initiatives to help Pacific island nations build themselves up while coping with economic globalization, the sources said.

Palau, a 488-sq.-km island off Papua New Guinea, chaired the 16-member South Pacific Forum when Japan held a summit with the SPF countries in Miyazaki in April.

Created in 1971, the SPF is a regional cooperative framework involving Australia, New Zealand and 14 developing countries in the Pacific that have gained independence since the 1970s — most recently Palau, in 1994.

“We want to send the message to those nations that Japan’s commitment to the Pacific didn’t end at just one big festival in Miyazaki,” one source said. “We want to keep the momentum of cooperation going.”

During their upcoming meeting, Mori and Nakamura are expected to confirm their commitment to keep the cooperation process going, with Japan set to host another SPF summit in two or three years.

Nakamura is expected to call for Japanese economic cooperation for personnel training, information technology-related matters, and cultural and student exchanges. He is also expected to make a speech at Waseda University, the sources said.

Keeping close ties with Pacific island nations is important because 13 of them are member countries of the U.N. and have always supported Japan in U.N. meetings.

For most SPF countries, Japan is the top or the second-largest aid donor. Japan provided $140 million in bilateral official development assistance to those countries in 1999, accounting for some 1.5 percent of Japan’s total ODA.

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