WORLD / Asia-Pacific

Japan to woo Pacific states with sharp aid rise
Updated: 2006-05-27 11:10

Japan is expected to offer Pacific island nations support, including a sharp rise in financial aid and training for thousands as a leaders summit ends on Saturday.

The Pacific island states offer little to Japan economically, but their support as a bloc is sought in international forums such as the United Nations where Japan has been campaigning, with small success, for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

The two-day summit on Japan's southern island of Okinawa brings together leaders from most of the 14 Pacific island nations that are members of the Pacific Island Forum for talks on issues, including global warming, the regional economy, security, and prevention of diseases such as bird flu and HIV/AIDS.

Japan is expected to make a new aid offer of 45 billion yen ($401 million) over the next three years, most of it in grants, Japanese media said. Aid to the region over the last three ficsal years was 32 billion yen.

"We'd like to express our commitment to the region," a Foreign Ministry official said.

During a similar gathering in Fiji last month, Chinese leader Wen Jiabao offered a sweeping package of economic aid to nations that support a one-China policy. Measures included zero-tariff agreements and 3 billion yuan ($374 million) in loans.

Japan's aid package is also expected to include training programmes for up to 4,000 people to deal with the under-employment the leaders described as a "time bomb", and technical support in fields such as waste management and disaster prevention.

All the island nations support Tokyo's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, which China opposes, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Friday he was very grateful for their support, a Foreign Ministry official said.

"We will continue to work to reform the Security Council and look forward to your cooperation," Koizumi was quoted as saying.

Japanese officials have repeatedly denied that they have any intention of competing with China for influence in the region, long a hotbed of rivalry between China and Taiwan.

Seven nations recognise China and six recognise Taiwan. A few, such as Kiribati, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, have switched back and forth, seeking to gain the best aid.

"We are not even thinking of China," the Foreign Ministry official said.

Sino-Japanese ties have chilled due to a range of issues, including a territorial row and Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine for war dead which is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Analysts, though, say Japan is unwilling to allow China to gain an upperhand in the region.

Asked what Japan hoped to gain from the area, the Foreign Ministry official simply said that a stable and prosperous Pacific region was in Japan's interests.

The Pacific Islands forum was established in 1971 and consists of 14 Pacific Island nations, including Australia and New Zealand. Japan has sponsored regional gatherings every three years since 1997.

($1=111.98 Yen) ($1=8.022 Yuan)