media Ifri in the Media
Céline PAJON, quoted by Maria Siow in SCMP

As China’s Pacific influence grows, Japan eyes deeper ties with island nations amid their domestic woes

Japan has supported the region by setting up hospitals, building roads and bridges, and assisting in climate change mitigation and disaster relief. Tokyo’s renewed focus on Pacific nations comes amid regional concern over Fukushima waste water discharge and as Chinese influence grows.

As Japan and Pacific island nations look to cooperate on a wide range of issues and close ranks against growing Chinese influence in the region, analysts say Tokyo also has to tackle the region’s concerns. These include climate change, disaster relief, and the discharge of waste water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant – an issue where greater “trust” and communication will be needed – while maritime and security ties with the region also need strengthening. At a meeting in the Fijian capital Suva last Monday, Japan and Pacific countries agreed to oppose “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion”, widely seen as a veiled reference to China’s growing influence in the region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters she agreed with the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) on the importance of the “international rules-based order”. She added that Japan would continue to provide explanations based on “scientific evidence” about the release of treated waste water from Fukushima.The gathering aimed to lay the groundwork for the 10th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting – held once every three years since 1997 – set to convene in Tokyo this July.


Pacific nations are among the most vulnerable to the changing climate, with many already experiencing higher temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events, according to Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.

Céline Pajon, head of Japan research at the French Institute of International Relations’ Centre for Asian and Indo-Pacific Studies in Paris, said Japan had taken steps to help the region adapt to climate change.

In 2018, Japan helped set up a regional centre in Samoa’s capital Apia, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to focus on researching and addressing climate change effects

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Chugoku Electric Power Inc. invested in expanding renewable energy in Fiji in 2021.

“Japan could follow up on these,” Pajon said, in addition to providing support on weather data and in developing information infrastructure to aid evacuations in case of a tropical cyclone. “Japan is also expected to assist in the development of communication infrastructure, including the installation of submarine cables,” she said.

Adding that the next likely recipient of Tokyo’s OSA funding would be Papua New Guinea, Pajon noted that the nuclear issue had been a “traditional, central irritant” in Japan’s relations and the region.

In 1981, the region protested against a Japanese project to dump nuclear waste in the ocean, while in 1992, the PIF criticised the plutonium transiting the region on the way from France to Japan.

“The stepping up of economic cooperation helped to iron out the issue for some time”, she said. But nuclear concerns once again emerged as an issue affecting relations after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Pacific countries have called for greater transparency and communication since Japan began discharging treated waste water from the plant last August.

“Tokyo is aware that the nuclear issue is very sensitive, and it is also used as a political card by some governments to criticise Japan, following China’s example,” Pajon added.

One of the most vocal opponents of the release of the waste water, China has called the discharge an “extremely selfish and irresponsible act” and accused Japan of “passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity”.


>Read the full article on the website of the South China Morning Post



Official development assistance (ODA) China Japan Pacific Islands