Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPOceania

Japan boosting Pacific Island Country resilience through increased collaboration

Marc Jacob Prosser

Japan is focusing on multinational collaboration as it bolsters aid and development to increase resilience for Pacific Island Countries (PICs).

“One of 2023’s biggest themes for Japan and its partners is moving from bilateral agreements and projects to multilateral approaches,” Shiozawa Hideyuki, leader of the Pacific Island Nations Program Team at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, told FORUM.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has also emphasized the importance of multilateral cooperation, noting in an interview with that members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — also known as the Quad and comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — are advancing cooperation in infrastructure development.

“The incorporation of the PICs into Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific [FOIP] vision cements their position in Tokyo’s efforts to preserve a rules-based international order and counterbalance China’s growing influence,” according to a March 2023 report by the French Institute of International Relations, titled “Japan and the Pacific Islands Countries: Longstanding Strategic Interests, Recent Strategic Engagement.” “Security issues of Asia have thus started to appear on the agenda of the PALM [Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting] summits. In addition, Japan has stepped up its cooperation with its closest allies and partners — the U.S. and Australia — as part of the operationalization of a FOIP in Oceania.”

Tokyo has become a major provider of development aid and a diplomatic and security partner for PICs, the report added, noting that Japan has increased naval diplomacy and defense dialogues in the region, in addition to participating in maritime capacity building, humanitarian aid and disaster relief. (Pictured: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, right, escorts Henry Puna, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, during a meeting in Tokyo in February 2023.)

Closer coordination and collaboration can improve results for Japan, its partners and PICs, added Shinya Tamio, director of the Pacific and Southeast Asia Division at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which delivers the bulk of Tokyo’s development assistance for economic and social growth in developing countries. The agency’s PIC budget has remained steady in recent years, representatives told FORUM. The 2019 Oceania budget, which included PICs, totalled U.S. $139 million in grants, including U.S. $40 million in technical cooperation and U.S. $41 million in loans.

Collaboration and multilateral efforts are a regionwide priority for JICA.

The Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC) in Samoa is an example of multilateral success. The regional center of excellence for climate change information, research, capacity building and innovation is a partnership between the Japanese and Samoan governments and was developed through a JICA grant.

Increased collaboration with partner countries improves climate resilience capacities in the region. For instance, New Zealand has helped fund the PCCC’s operations since it opened in 2019. Australia recently partnered with the PCCC, pledging nearly U.S. $20 million to support long-term solutions to extreme weather events.

A JICA-supported technical cooperation project will begin in 2023 to promote innovative climate solutions for the Pacific region and enhance public-private partnerships.

Analysts point to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) increased presence and attempts at influence throughout the Pacific as impetus for increased collaboration. The PRC’s seemingly generous loans for projects have saddled recipients with unsustainable interest rate payments, leading some analysts to describe it as a form of debt diplomacy.

“Often, China dictates some of the terms and the scope of projects. It also imports materials and manpower when carrying out aid and development projects,” Yoichiro Sato, dean of the College of Asia Pacific Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, told FORUM. “In contrast, Japan’s approach is working with recipient countries [that] navigate an application process, which increases the chances of aid and development projects matching what the countries need.”

Increasing multilateral aid can present challenges as participants collaborate in new ways to optimize efficiency, Tamio said. An understanding of each participant’s areas of expertise is crucial. Some will be skilled in coordination, others at providing project infrastructure, and others at financial tools and oversight. “Our partners and we continually work on becoming even better at coordinating and communicating clearly on such areas across cultural and organizational differences to deliver the optimal outcomes,” Tamio said.

Marc Jacob Prosser is a FORUM contributor reporting from Tokyo, Japan.


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