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A Fijian Perspective on the Pacific

Alliance Leaders Meeting (PALM)


and Japan-Pacific Relations
Guest: H.E. Isikeli Mataitoga
Published: October 21, 2014

For the last seventeen years, the PALM
Summit has provided a mutually significant
mechanism of engagement between Japan
and Pacific Island Countries (PICs). However,
there has been greater interest in the region
from other countries (e.g., India, Russia,
ASEAN members, and the Gulf States) in
recent years. Have those countries
enhanced relations with the PICs eroded any
of Japans influence in the region?
The impact of China, India,
Russia and Middle Eastern
countries greater engagement
with PICs is not the same
throughout the region. You
need to look at various sub-
groupings of PICs to assess
the impact on Japans
influence.
That said, Japans influence in
Micronesia remains strong in
the period referred. The main reason for this is
that projects supporting Climate Change
Mitigation and Resilience (CCMR) for these
countries have been boosted significantly and
this addresses a major security issue under
PALM. This may also be true for some of the
Polynesian states, like Samoa, Tonga and Cook
Islands. In Melanesia (and Fiji in particular), the
official position is not to reduce Japans
relations with us. Rather, it is to better focus the
area of development cooperation to better
suit local priorities.
One significant weakness of the PALM process
is that it is distant in its management, not willing
to be more Pacific in character (in terms of it
being hosted in PICs), and the Prime Minister
(PM) of Japan and other senior political leaders
hardly visit PICs. The one-size-fits-all approach
in the provision of development assistance
needs to change to focus attention of country
specific needs. And, Overseas Development
Assistance (ODA) should be flexible to address
those. The PM of Samoa was recently reported
as saying that China is more flexible with their
ODA, compared to others.
The advent of Russia, India and China in the
PICs region has been significant in allowing
those PICs that have established close relations
with them to be less reliant on Japan, United
States, European Union and
others. It is in the latter extent,
it may be said, that Japanese
influence has weakened. But I
hasten to caution that these
relationships need not be cast
in terms of competitive
relations - rather one of
complementarity.

Initially, this will require a high
dose of shuttle diplomacy from
Japan to PICs - followed by
better articulation of Japanese priorities in
providing development assistance that
addresses the needs of peoples in these
communities. There is need for countries that
provide assistance to realize that one of the
best way to understand whether their
assistance will really assist the target
communities is to directly involve those people
in the decision-making process.
Interviews

One significant weakness of
the PALM process is that it is
distant in its management, not
willing to be more Pacific in
character (in terms of it being
hosted in PICs), and the Prime
Minister of Japan and other
senior political leaders hardly
visit PICs.
Pacific Islands Society | www.pacificislandssociety.org



Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | October 21, 2014
At PALM6, participants adopted the Okinawa
Kizuna Declaration, which highlighted five
themes for follow-on action: (1) response to
natural disasters (2) environment and
climate change (3) sustainable development
based upon human security (4) people-to-
people exchanges and (5) maritime issues.
How have the participants faired in fulfilling
their commitments in these areas?

It difficult to make the assessment you have
posed in your question. The reason for that is
that no criteria are provided for each of the five
areas your have rightly identified as focus areas
under the Okinawa Kizuna Declaration of
PALM6. There is a financial envelope that
Japan has stated it has made available for
these five areas of
development activities. The
amount in the envelope is
USD $500 million over a
three-year period. Only one
party - Japan - knows how
this money is spent and how
much is left. This is where
the lack transparency is
most evident and why
sometimes difficult to
understand the claims being
made in some quarters on
how this funds have been
utilized.

For PICs, one of the key facets of the PALM
Summit is aid. Yet, Japan is yet to fulfill its
three-year pledge to give US$500m. In
contrast, Chinas presence in the region has
been increasingly noticeable. Between 2006
and 2011, China is estimated to have
contributed US$850m in bilateral aid to eight
PICs. Your counterpart in London even
remarked, China stepped in when other
western development partners, such as the
US and the UK, withdrew. From your
perspective, how does Japans delivery of
aid affect its strategic partnerships with PICs
vis-a-vis China? Are PICs expecting more
from Japan at PALM7?

First thing first Japan must decide what are its
foreign policy objectives regarding its relations
with the PICs. Having decided on that, it must
state it clearly and denominate the framework to
deliver those objectives.

If we ask, MOFA for their foreign policy priority
in PICs, the reference you may be given is the
PALM Process. Apart from that, there will be a
general reference about Asia-Pacific Security
issues.

As I earlier noted in PICs with severe climate
change adaptation issues, Japans aid delivery
does promote a positive impact in its bilateral
relations. But it should be note that most PICs
do not engage with Japan in
competition with China.
Rather, they see relations
with both Japan and China
as complimentary to their
respective development
goals.

The difficulty with PALM7 is
the process. The issues to
be discussed are highly
controlled by Japan. There
are little real engagement
with senior officials from the
PICs to work up the agenda for PALM and to
promote ownership amongst all the parties. In
terms of expectation, there is therefore little to
expect because PICs are in the dark in their
understanding of the actual financial resources
available and how they would be used.

In the case of Fiji, we would like PALM to
address issues of market access for Fijian
made goods and services into the Japanese
market. This is a forlon hope because Australia
and New Zealand are members of PALM and
they would demand similar concessions. We
also would want the next PALM to be hosted in
one of PICs - to make a truly Pacific Island and
Japan framework for development.

The difficulty with PALM7 is the
process. The issues to be
discussed are highly controlled by
Japan. There are little real
engagement with senior officials
from the PICs to work up the
agenda for PALM and to promote
ownership amongst all the
parties.
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | October 21, 2014
A fellow at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS), Greg Polling,
recently criticized Japan's leader-centric
approach to engagements with PICs
specifically citing the PALM Summit as an
example. How would broader stakeholder
participation in the PALM Summits affect the
achievement of improving Japans ties with
PICs?

Before Mr. Poling made his
observation, I was saying
this very point to relevant
officials in Gaimusho here in
Tokyo. If Japan were to be
more open and inclusive in
its engagement with other
important and vital
stakeholders in PICs - as
referred to in your question -
I have no doubt that the
Japanese Government image would be much
more enhanced in these countries and
communities. There is great power in open and
inclusive engagement.

I believe that widening the
participation in PALM to
include other stakeholders in
development in PICs and
Japan will lead to more
enhanced relations amongst
them. There is so much that
the PALM process could
benefit from in terms of
development expertise. From
high-level personnel with
valuable experience - the
think tanks, civil society, private sector
representatives, etc. Japan uses these same
stakeholders in the development its own
national development goals. It should not be too
difficult to do the same with the PALM process.

The issues of reviewing the PALM process have
come to the fore only since PALM6. And, the
issues coming up are membership and whether
participation should include stakeholders in
development within PICs.

For Fiji, PALM is a disguised Pacific Islands
Forum (PIF) with Japan as the chief coordinator.
And, as our PM recently stated, unless PIF
undergoes certain fundamental changes, it is
unlikely that Fiji will rejoin.

At the last PALM summit, there was a
significant change in membership with the
inclusion of the United States. As a
significant partner for Japan and many PICs,
how will Japans strategic
alliance with the US impact
future PALM agendas and the
power dynamics of the
meetings?

In fairness to Japan, the
number one priority issue in
any countrys foreign policy is
its national security interest. To
that extent, it is
understandable that Japan often treads very
carefully in its diplomatic engagement, whether
in develop assistance diplomacy or any other
area, that it does not violate its relations with
United States - especially if it
may be seen [optic again] by
Washington to be likely to
weaken their Pivot to Asia
policy.

The Japan - United States
Alliance directly impacts how
and when Japan engages with
PICs - generally and on
specific issues. How else
would anyone explain Japans
proposal to include the United
States into PALM?

The question I wish someone to answer is: Why
does the United States need to go through
PALM to engage with PICs? The United States
has a similar framework already in existence,
which has been dormant for a while. What are
factors [real or imagined] that prevent the
United States consulting directly with PICs?

For Fiji, PALM is a disguised
Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) with
Japan as the chief coordinator.
And, as our PM recently stated,
unless PIF undergoes certain
fundamental changes, it is
unlikely that Fiji will rejoin.
The question I wish someone
to answer is: Why does the
United States need to go
through PALM to engage with
PICs? The United States has a
similar framework already in
existence, which has been
dormant for a while.
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | October 21, 2014
This will be the first PALM Summit since
your country successfully held democratic
elections earlier this year. Given your
absence from PALM6, what goals does Fiji
hope to achieve in the upcoming meeting?

Fijis attendance at PALM7 is not a foregone
conclusion. Fiji will have to be invited first. We
were asked to submit our views on the PALM
process by Japan. These have been prepared
and submitted to relevant representatives of the
Japanese Government. Within that submission
are the issues that we would like Japan to
consider. We are confident that it will be given
active considerations.

How has Japans position on the coup in the
past impacted relations? What are bilateral
relations between Japan and Fiji like today?

Japan did not terminate its diplomatic relations
with Fiji following the change in government in
Fiji in late 2006. This was in sharp contrasts to
other countries, which
suspended diplomatic
relations with Fiji. This was a
sign of maturity in Japanese
diplomacy because they kept
the door open for dialogue
with Fiji - which was essential
in promoting understanding during those
difficult days.

The first few years 2007-2012, were difficult
years in Fiji - Japan bilateral relations. Since the
Japanese Parliamentary Election in December
2012, the new Japanese Government has been
more willing to engage with Fiji. And, these
thawing of relations will be further enhanced
following the election in Fiji on 17 September
2014. Now Fiji and Japan are discussing high
level of political leaders visit to each others
country. This will further lift relations to new
heights.

Earlier this month, Japan won membership
of the Pacific Islands Forum while at the UN
Meeting in New York. Outside of PALM, this
appears indicative of Japans increasing
attention to the Pacific Islands Region.
During this time, leaders called on Japan to
focus on climate change, Sustainable
Development Goals, and the SAMOA
Pathway. With this in mind, what do you
think this means for Japans role in the
region?

Japans desire to deepen its engagement with
PICs was first made at the PALM Ministers of
Foreign Affairs meeting in Tokyo in 2013. At this
meeting the Japanese Minister of Foreign
Affairs stated Japans desire to be more
involved in PICs region. Fiji supported the
statement of the Japanese Minister and
proposed that Japan should be a member of
the PIF. Having proposed this to the meeting,
Fiji asked Japan to clearly articulate the role it
would like to play when they join. This would
allow other members who were silent to the
proposal to better evaluate the Japanese
desire. This is still to happen.

On the role Japan may play in PICs countries, it
is something that the
Government of Japan, the
wider stakeholders in Japan,
and PICs need to discuss and
articulate publicly. A seminar
seeking to start a conversation
covering the issues raised by this question will
be held on 27 November 2014 here in Tokyo -
at the Nippon Foundation Building. It is co-
hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Fiji in
Japan and Sasakawa Peace Foundation.
Participants, commentators, and presenters at
this seminar are invited from a wide range of
organization, including diplomats, civil
societies, academia, private sector
representatives and ordinary Japanese people.

What does Fiji hope to gain from Japan
(especially in terms of trade) in the future?
Will Japan be able to realize its traditional
economic objectives (ex. fisheries) and
emerging (ex. oil, gas, deep-sea mining)
interests in the region?

Fijis attendance at PALM7 is
not a foregone conclusion. Fiji
will have to be invited first.

Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | October 21, 2014
Fiji looks to Japan for Small and Medium
Enterprise Investors and the development of
cooperative business relations that would
enhance the development of our agricultural
sector to be competitive.

In particular Fiji needs Japanese farms
technology, management skills and knowledge,
in developing on a commercial scale agro-
processed products for the Japanese and other
overseas markets. In this regard, opportunities
for fresh fruit and vegetables, fruit and
vegetable extracts, alcohol, water, spa &
wellness products, food items etc., would be a
priority.

Japan is already a large importer of fresh and
frozen tuna from Fiji. This will grow in the future
and may also target processing these for
canned tuna etc. In certain boutique products
like pearl, Japanese participation is already
significant. In the tourism sector, Japanese
interest has grown significantly with some hotels
now owned and operated by Japanese for
Japanese visitors.

Public utilities sector may be of interest to
Japanese Companies. And, I hope that one or
two of the major projects in the comings years
will be built by Japan. These kinds project do
carry a high level of diplomatic footprint with
them.

As regards, Deep Sea Mining (DSM) Fiji is still
at the prospecting stage. And, the actual
mining of seabed resources will be open to
Japan - just as it will be open to any other
countries.



Guest

Isikeli Mataitoga is the Ambassador of the
Republic of Fiji to Japan



Interviewer

Keiko Ono is the Director of Development at the
Pacific Islands Society



Disclaimer

The views expressed respectively are those of
the interviewer and interviewee.