• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Friday he promised Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape that Tokyo would offer “strong” support to help the Pacific island nation’s economy recover from the new coronavirus pandemic.

Following his meeting with Marape in Port Moresby, Motegi told reporters in a virtual news conference that they also confirmed the importance of the “free and open maritime order based on the rule of law for the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Motegi, however, did not explicitly refer to China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas in his comments to reporters.

“The cases of infections in Papua New Guinea are small but the country has been impacted economically by the coronavirus. Amid this situation, I conveyed to Prime Minister Marape Japan’s strong support for Papua New Guinea,” Motegi said.

He said the two sides would work on details of the assistance. In June, Japan said it would provide a total of ¥1.9 billion ($17 million) in grant aid to help strengthen Papua New Guinea’s medical and health system and its maritime security efforts.

The island nation with a population of about 8.9 million has seen some 350 coronavirus cases with three deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Motegi and Marape, who took office in May last year, also signed a document promoting bilateral relations in which Tokyo vowed to boost investments in Papua New Guinea.

Motegi is on the first stop of a six-day tour through Tuesday that will also take him to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. He became the first minister from overseas to visit Papua New Guinea since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Due to strict restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the virus, Motegi’s stay in the Pacific island country was limited to a round-trip between the airport and his hotel, located five minutes by car, where the meeting with Marape took place.

Motegi resumed overseas travel this month with recent visits to Britain, Singapore and Malaysia. Before those trips, no Japanese minister had traveled overseas since February due to the pandemic.

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