On Aug. 9, Foreign Minister Taro Kono will return home from a four country-tour of Fiji, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. This is the first time in 32 years for a Japanese foreign minister to visit the South Pacific Islands since Tadashi Kuranari traveled there in 1987. The recent tour strengthened Japan’s ties with these nations. Moreover, in partnership with the United States and Australia, Japan countered China through this trip. China is increasing its influence in the region.
In his meetings with each nation’s foreign minister, Kono called for the strengthening of support to the island nations, such as infrastructure development, strengthening of maritime surveillance capabilities, and typhoon countermeasures, with an eye on the realizing the “free and open Indo-Pacific initiative.” The visits to Micronesia and Marshall Islands were the first ever by a Japanese foreign minister.
In recent years, China has been enhancing ties with the South Pacific island nations by leveraging financial assistance. In this way, China is expanding its influence from the South China Sea to the South Pacific.
China has been pressing the Marshall Islands, Palau, and other nations that share diplomatic ties with Taiwan to break their ties with that nation by offering infrastructure investment. This could impact the security strategy of Japan, the U.S., and Australia.
U.S. President Donald Trump invited the presidents of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands to the White House for a meeting in May. In early August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also visited Palau and Micronesia. Special Advisor to Prime Minister Kentaro Sonoura has already visited the South Pacific Islands five times since he assumed office in 2017.