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JAPAN PUSHES TO BOOST INDO-PACIFIC STRATEGY

JAPAN PUSHES TO BOOST INDO-PACIFIC STRATEGY
From left: Akiko Omura, President Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote, and Ambassador of Japan to Fiji Masahiro Omura.
May 14
14:34 2018

Fiji Sun’s deputy business editor, Sheldon Chanel, will be in Japan to cover the PALM8 meeting.

Japan wants to deepen its ties with Fiji by including the island state in its multilateral Indo-Pacific Strategy, says the country’s ambassador Masahiro Omura.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama will meet his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, during May 18-19 at the triennial Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM 8) in Fukushima, Japan.

Mr Omura said Japan was exploring trade opportunities in Fiji, with fishing and cosmetics, such as from the brand Pure Fiji, being its prime targets. But Mr Omura did say that trade was a “challenge,” meaning attracting Japanese businesses to invest in Fiji could become an important part of his diplomatic role.

He also said that during PALM8, there would be discussions about Japan’s engagement in multilateral development co-operation in the region.

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) is a Japanese foreign policy tool through which it hopes to improve communication infrastructure across several regions.

Japan’s ultimate goal is to promote free trade through open markets, infrastructure investment and development, while also building “strategic collaborations” with countries.

“Absent from this strategy so far is any reference to the Pacific islands,” wrote University of the South Pacific politics professor Sandra Tarte, in March for the East Asia Forum.

“If Japan is to build this relationship into a ‘strategic collaboration’ beyond the political and economic cooperation that currently exists, it will need to navigate a more fluid regional order and to accommodate a new assertiveness from Pacific island countries.”

Mr Bainimarama’s attendance comes just six years after Japan chose not to include him in PALM6, a move that threatened to cause a rift between the two countries.

Relations have markedly improved since then and the country’s national airline Fiji Airways will also resume direct flights to Narita near Japan’s capital Tokyo, starting July 3.

Highlights from an interview with Ambassador Masahiro Omura:

How is Japan planning to deepen its relationship with Fiji and the Pacific?

It relates to one of the most important items during the PALM8. Japan would like to deepen relationships with Pacific Island countries. For one thing, through the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) Strategy; this strategy is meant to get support from Pacific Island countries about Japan’s further engagement in the area (Pacific) and by getting this support, Japan will implement further development co-operation assistance to the area.

In terms of trade, do you see any new opportunities to further enhance trade between Japan and Fiji?

Trade is a challenge. The good news is that Fiji Airways will resume direct flights between Nadi and Narita so there will be more opportunities to deliver products, in particular fish, from this area to Japan. Also, the cosmetics like Pure Fiji might be another possibility for expansion of trade between Fiji and Japan, especially speaking about export. The fishing industry here also supplies to Japanese markets as well and it’s a commercial transaction.

What is the significance of the meeting in light of the new geopolitical challenges in the region?

From Japanese viewpoint, it’s a very important occasion to strengthen ties with Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, through top level exchange and as I mentioned, through this exchange Japan wishes to get support for its basic diplomatic concepts such as the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.

From Pacific Island countries viewpoint, I think one thing that is an important point is that they will get an assurance from Japan that we will continue development co-operation in the area. In the past meetings, Japan pledged co-operation to this area (Pacific) and in PALM7 Japan pledged roughly $USD550million in three years. Japan has already achieved this. This time also – and it’s not yet announced – Japan will make another commitment in terms of development co-operation and Official Development Assistance (ODA) to this area.

Why did you decide to invite New Caledonia and French Polynesia to PALM 8?

Japan took a very cautious approach regarding this issue. As you mentioned, these two areas are still legally part of France and we are not sure how much authority they have to participate in the discussion conducted at the PALM meeting.

But the Pacific Island countries showed a unified stance that two areas should be invited and knowing this strong position and considering the centrality of Pacific Island countries in the context of PALM, Japan decided to change its position to invite them.

You may also note that these two areas are still part of France and there is something called the DAC (Development Assistance Committee) list of aid recipients. This is a list of recipient countries of ODA and these two French territories are not listed. So these two areas will not be recipients of Japanese aid.

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

 

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