Checkbook diplomacy aimed at reining China
Updated: 2012-05-28 08:01
By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)
Japan promises $500m in aid to island countries
Japan is boosting financial aid and urging cooperation in maritime security with Pacific island countries to curb China's increasing presence in the region, analysts said.
Tokyo promised on Saturday to provide up to $500 million in aid to Pacific island countries over the next three years, as the two-day Sixth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture drew to a close.
In the Okinawa Kizuna Declaration, Japanese and Pacific island leaders at the summit agreed to strengthen ties regarding maritime issues and disasters.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that over the past three years, Japan had fulfilled its pledge to provide $493 million in aid for the island countries.
However, the phrase "containing China" has been in the headlines of Japanese media reports on the meeting. Nippon News Network said on Saturday that China is currently expanding its influence among the Pacific island countries and that Japan should take countermeasures.
During the summit, Noda also urged countries including China to "boost transparency" in the aid provided to the island countries in the Pacific, Japan's Fuji Television reported on Saturday.
Yet few participants, except Japan, mentioned China during the summit's discussions on Saturday, Japan's Jiji Press news agency said.
The United States participated in the triennial summit for the first time this year.
Analysts said Tokyo's invitation to Washington to attend the forum was aimed at helping boost the US presence in the region to curb China's influence.
"The summit, originally between Japan and the Pacific island countries, shows the Noda cabinet's unspoken strategic resonance with Washington's strategy of shifting focus to the Asia-Pacific region," said Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations.
The Pacific Islands Forum, which started in 1997, groups Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Fiji did not attend this year.
Maritime security was put on the summit's agenda for the first time, and in the declaration on Saturday, the leaders vowed to promote "maritime cooperation, in such areas as marine environment, maritime security".
The concerns of the island countries focus on "maritime resources and boosting tourism industries", Jiji said.
Jiji also quoted Japanese Foreign Ministry officials as saying that the maritime security topic deviates from the original purpose of the Pacific island summit.
The countries at the summit also discussed for the first time defense cooperation. Noda proposed that defense authorities in Japan and the island nations cooperate, particularly through personnel exchanges, according to the declaration.
Japan's offer to boost defense cooperation with the island countries is a step that could be followed by further military aid and even arms sales, said Feng Zhaokui, a Japanese studies researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
And Japan is also adding militarization into its foreign aid, as the country has reportedly mulled to provide at least 10 patrol ships to the Coast Guard of the Philippines before the end of this year. Malaysia and Vietnam will also receive patrol ships from Japan.
The joint declaration emphasized the importance of international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in maintaining maritime order in the Pacific.
Tokyo's recent repeated remarks about maritime order, including freedom of navigation, reflect its strategic intention to further contain China in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Yang said.
As for Japan, it is hard to tell whether its checkbook diplomacy will help it to surpass China's appeal to the countries in the Pacific, Yang said. "The island countries will brood on their strategic priorities with major economic powers, including China and Japan, and they will make their own power balance."
In addition to lobbying the island countries to support Tokyo's pursuit for a permanent membership in the UN Security Council, Tokyo's interest in fishery resources and natural resources are also among the purposes of the summit, Feng said.
The waters of the south Pacific are home to around 80 percent of Japan's tuna and bonito, and Kyodo said Noda held bilateral talks with most of the leaders of island nations at the summit.
Before the multilateral talks on Saturday, Japan and Tonga agreed to work closely together to expand the use of natural energy, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
(China Daily 05/28/2012 page12)