• Kyodo

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Japan will provide Pacific island nations and territories with 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from mid-July through the U.N.-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing program, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday.

Suga’s announcement came as leaders of Japan and Pacific island nations and territories held an online meeting Friday, with Tokyo aiming to promote its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” in an apparent effort to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

In the virtual meeting, Japan also pledged assistance to help Pacific countries recover from the coronavirus pandemic by strengthening health care and medical systems, providing economic relief, and improving infrastructure facilities among other measures, according to government officials.

Suga also reaffirmed with the Pacific leaders continued cooperation in such fields as maritime security and climate change.

The ninth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting is joined by representatives from Japan, 14 Pacific island nations, Australia and New Zealand, as well as French Polynesia and New Caledonia, both French administrative divisions.

The islands are of strategic importance to Tokyo in both the economic and security arenas, the Foreign Ministry said. China has provided loans and development assistance to projects such as the construction of infrastructure in the region.

Japan is set to call for Pacific islands’ cooperation toward the realization of its Indo-Pacific initiative that advocates democracy, respect for human rights and rules-based order in the region, according to the ministry.

As for measures against the pandemic, Japan is expected to announce the provision of COVID-19 vaccines to the Pacific islands through the U.N.-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing framework.

Tokyo has hosted the regional summit with the Pacific island nations once every three years since 1997. This year’s meeting was originally scheduled to be held in Shima, Mie Prefecture, but switched to a virtual setting due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The 14 Pacific island countries are the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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