Tuvalu News

Japan aids Pacific nations, wins support for UNSC

The Japan Times, Japan - 27 May 2006

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. (AP) Japan lavished 45 billion yen in fresh aid to Pacific Island nations at a leaders' summit Saturday and walked away with unified support for its bid to join the U.N. Security Council.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his counterpart from Papua New Guinea, Michael Somare, share a laugh Saturday during the Pacific Islands Forum in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

The offer marks a big jump in Japanese aid in what some see as a growing battle of dollar diplomacy with China to hold sway over the region. China, which opposes Japan's U.N. aspirations, last month lavished millions of dollars in aid on its Pacific allies.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced the package at the end of a two-day meeting of Pacific leaders in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, winning dearly needed backing for the so-far beleaguered push for a Security Council seat.

"We in the Pacific have given our support to Japan," said Michael Somare, prime minister of Papua New Guinea and cochair of the Pacific Island summit. "Japan has made a substantial contribution, not only in the region, but in international communities."

Friendships with the far-flung and impoverished Pacific states are an easy way for governments to win backing at international venues like the United Nations. The countries have tiny populations, meaning relatively small amounts of aid can go far, but they still wield one vote, the same as larger countries.

Together, the Pacific Island nations attending the Okinawa summit comprise only a fraction of the world's population but hold 14 U.N. votes, or about 7 percent of the total.

Environmentalists meanwhile accuse Japan of using Pacific aid to buy votes in favor of whaling at the International Whaling Commission, a charge Japan denies.

"The Foreign Ministry has been very keen on using aid strategically," said political analyst Shigenori Okazaki. "Each of these countries has one vote."

Japan says its aid is about creating a more stable and prosperous region, not about jousting with China, a country that only recently got into the overseas aid business.

Koizumi said he welcomed China's development help to the region.

"I would not take that as a threat," Koizumi said. "If China and other countries wish to provide assistance and can provide assistance to various developing countries, fine. Please do so by all means."

Somare echoed the sentiment that Japan's aid had nothing to do with China.

"I don't think it should be seen as competing for influence in the region," he said. "I think Pacific Island people are capable of making their own decisions."

Just last month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao jetted to the South Pacific to spend 3 billion yuan, or $ 374 million, on countries such as Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

The aid targeted mining, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aviation.

China has typically used the aid to win support for Beijing over Taiwan and has demanded that other countries refuse to recognize Taiwan's government.

But China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is also trying to block momentum for a seat for Tokyo, saying Japan has not properly atoned for its militaristic past.

Koizumi called Japan's aid package and the island nations' backing in the Security Council spat "an important milestone for Japan's foreign policy."

The aid will target education, economic development, health care, environmental protection and disaster mitigation projects, such as tsunami early warning systems. It will also fund the training of thousands of civil servants.

The leaders also discussed recent unrest in the Solomon Islands and agreed to cooperate on fostering good governance in the region, while cracking down on international crime and terrorism.

Japan said it would divvy up the aid among the countries according to needs and based on reviews of project proposals.

Japan has hosted the Pacific Islands four times since 1997 but announced no new aid packages at the last summit in 2003. Japanese development aid to the Pacific region had actually shrunk by 72 percent between 2000 and 2004.

Invitees were members of the Pacific Islands Forum, a group founded in 1971. The body, with a secretariat based in Fiji, consists of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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