Japan, U.S., Australia move to strengthen ties with South Pacific island nations

Leon Lord/Fiji Sun via AP
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong, left, is welcomed by Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Henry Puna during her visit to the secretariat in Suva, Fiji, on Thursday.

The United States and Australia are moving to counter China’s active engagement with South Pacific island nations.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited Fiji from Thursday to Friday, which coincided with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour of the region. Wong conveyed Canberra’s policy of strengthening its assistance to South Pacific island nations in such fields as climate change and infrastructure development. The region is strategically significant for Australia’s security, and China’s expanding influence poses a direct threat.

At a press briefing on May 25, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that “importing security forces” from China “could only seek to fuel regional and international tensions.”

In February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji, the first U.S. secretary of state to do so in 37 years, to maintain his country’s relationships with South Pacific island nations. Washington also plans to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, which closed in 1993.

Japan, too, hopes to stop the expansion of China’s influence in the region’s security field. The Japanese Foreign Ministry became aware in advance of the moves to conclude a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands and tried to persuade the island nation not to go ahead with it. However, a Foreign Ministry official said, “The Solomon Islands did not listen.”

In late April, after the announcement of the signing of the security agreement, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Kentaro Uesugi visited the Solomon Islands. In early May, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited Fiji and Palau. The two conveyed to the countries’ leaders Japan’s concerns over China’s hegemonic moves.

During the Quad summit on May 24 attended by leaders of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, the leaders proposed strengthening maritime surveillance in the Indo-Pacific region. Tokyo intends to further strengthen cooperation through information-sharing among the Quad members and the South Pacific island nations.

In January 2023, Japan plans to open an embassy in Kiribati, which broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and is strengthening its pro-China stance. The Japanese government intends to continue to convey its positions through occasions such as the triennial Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting, which invites leaders of the Pacific island nations to Japan.