No. 17 — April 28, 2000

 

Weekly Review

MORI WORKS TO BOOST TIES WITH SOUTH PACIFIC
--- by Marc Castellano

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, making his first diplomatic appearance since succeeding Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in early April, met April 22 with the leaders of the 16 nations of the South Pacific Forum at the second Pacific Islanders' Meeting, or PALM 2000, to discuss ways to boost cooperation. The highlight of the session, convened in Miyazaki on Kyushu, was Mr. Mori's announcement of an aid package worth roughly $4 million. The prime minister and South Pacific Forum leaders also released a declaration that spelled out a "common vision on tomorrow's Pacific." However, they were not able to reach agreement on the key issues of climate change and nuclear fuel shipments.

The aid package, dubbed the Miyazaki Initiative, was crafted in part to help the islands of the South Pacific narrow the so-called digital divide and cope with the rigors of globalization. Tokyo will contribute $1 million to the United Nations Development Program to promote the advancement of information and communications technologies in the South Pacific. Moreover, $2 million will go to the U.N. Human Security Fund, which was established in 1998 in response to a proposal by Mr. Obuchi to deal with infectious disease control, refugee relief, narcotics trafficking, transnational crime and related problems. Another $1 million will be provided to the South Pacific Forum to promote intellectual and cultural exchanges. Mr. Mori also said that more than 3,000 Japanese and South Pacific islanders would be involved in a program over the next five years to promote capacity-building in the area of human resources in such SPF member countries as Micronesia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Other aid measures include provisions for research on climate change, harnessing new energy resources and mining deep-sea minerals.

On the diplomatic front, Mr. Mori assured his counterparts that their views would be represented at the summit of the leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations plus Russia, to be held July 21 to July 23 on Okinawa. Japan is eager to make Asian voices heard at the upcoming meetings of the world's major economic powers. In January, Mr. Obuchi visited Cambodia, Laos and Thailand as part of his drive to expand Asia's input in this international forum (see JEI Report No. 3B, January 21, 2000). He also solicited the opinions of the leaders of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other developing economies at the February session of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, held in Bangkok (see JEI Report No. 7B, February 18, 2000).

Climate change is an important issue for SPF members, whose island nations are some of the world's most vulnerable areas in terms of land erosion from rising sea levels — a possible effect of global warming. The leaders agreed to work toward gaining implementation of the December 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliges developed countries to reduce emissions of so-called greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 (see JEI Report No. 10A, March 13, 1998). However, they were unable to agree on a target date for ratification. The treaty, so far formally adopted by only about 14 nations, must be approved by 55 governments to become legally binding.

Another area of concern broached by the SPF delegations was the shipment of nuclear fuel. This dangerous material is moved along major shipping routes that run through the Pacific, putting fragile island ecosystems at risk. The SPF participants did not call for an end to such traffic, but the two sides did agree to address worries regarding the serious economic and ecological damage that could result from an accident that involved radioactive substances.

Although no agreements of significance emerged from the one-day gathering, PALM 2000 was claimed to be an overall success. Palau President Kuniwo Nakamura, who led the SPF group, praised Mr. Mori's diplomatic skills, saying that the prime minister did an excellent job hosting his first international conference. He also applauded the Japanese aid package and expressed hope for additional financial assistance in the future. Mr. Nakamura, who is of Japanese descent, characterized the summit as extremely productive and suggested that the relationships between SPF nations and Japan would grow stronger and become more important in the future.

That would suit the policymakers in Tokyo who are working to build support for Japan's bid to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Backing from SPF countries, which have 13 votes in the U.N. General Assembly, would help put the long-sought goal within easier reach. The success of PALM 2000 also may boost Mr. Mori's political clout, a key consideration for a leader widely viewed as merely a caretaker. The third summit between SPF members and Japan is expected be held in two or three years.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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