Japan says it’s committed to launching a risk insurance scheme to protect Pacific island states against natural disasters.
The commitment was made during the Pacific Island Leader’s Meeting in Japan over the weekend, where Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also pledged half a billion dollars in aid to the region over the next three years.
But the summit also focussed on maritime security for the first time…amid recent territorial disputes in the South China Sea between Japan and China.
Also for the first time, delegates from Washington were present, as the United States seeks to put more focus in the Pacific.
Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island affairs, Richard Marles, was at the summit in Okinawa…and he spoke to Girish Sawlani.
RICHARD MARLES: We were very appreciative of the role Japan is playing in the Pacific. Japan is one of the major donor countries into the Pacific. We're increasingly building our partnership with Japan and the way in which that development assistance is being delivered.
It’s also fair to say that, in my observation, this meeting represented a high water mark in the relationship between Japan and the countries of the Pacific. I think there was a great sense of appreciation, not only with the amount being contributed by Japan but also the degree of consultation and partnership going along with that. Of course, that’s very much in line with the way we like to see development assistance being done.
That it’s being done in a cooperative way, in a way which empowers the countries who are the recipients of the money, in a way which coordinates with the other donor countries like ourselves and a way which is consistent with the Cairns Compact framework.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Speaking about foreign aid, the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, directly called for emerging donors, including China, to enhance the transparency of their aid.
Is Australia on-board with such a proposal and is there a sense that China’s moves into the Pacific, significantly increasing aid to the region, is putting island nations at an awkward diplomatic position?
RICHARD MARLES: I wouldn't agree with the last proposition. Let me be clear about this, China’s increased presence in the Pacific is fundamentally welcomed by Australia. The Pacific is a difficult place in which to do development assistance work.
I made the point at PALM that as we lead into 2015 when the report card on the Millennium Development Goals will come out, it will be a very patchy result for the Pacific.
I think that’s a reflection of the difficulty associated with trying to see societies of small populations in geographically isolated situations, which is what you're talking about with the Pacific Island countries, experiencing the kind of development that we would all want to see.
So, with that in mind, if any country out there wants to lend a hand in the development assistance work of the region we think that is fundamentally a good thing.
The one thing that we have consistently asked of any country wanting to participate in the Pacific is that they do so in coordination with the rest of us.
If you like, we do it all together and we share each other’s experiences and stories so that we can do this at best practice and we can do this in a coordinated way and that is fundamentally the philosophy of the Cairns Compact.
Now, it’s no secret that we have said on a number of occasions we would like China to participate in the Cairns Compact and, of course, they have said at this point that they don't wish to.
That is something that we would like to see change and to that extent we agree with the comments that have been made by the Prime Minister of Japan.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Now, Japan has also committed to launching a natural disaster risk insurance scheme alongside other measures, such as improving early warning systems.
Obviously this comes on the back of the recent disasters to strike Japan. Would such a scheme work in the Pacific and is it something Australia could consider with Japan?
RICHARD MARLES: We think this is a really important contribution that Japan is making to the Pacific. Given the enormous tragedy of the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, this is a natural thing for Japan to want to do.
They want to share the experience they've had and share the learnings they've had from that experience. I think the Pacific, and more generally the world, has much to learn from the enormous tragedy that occurred in Japan.
So we very much respect the effort of Japan to try and share their learnings and their experience from that earthquake with the rest of the Pacific. As we know, the Pacific is a place which is prone to natural disaster, be that cyclone or storms, or indeed earthquake related disasters.
We've had, in the last couple of years, the Samoan tsunami which saw significant loss of life and Australia was very involved in all the rescue efforts associated with that tsunami.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Now, maritime security was on the agenda for the first time, I believe, and it too coincides with Washington’s presence. Was there a sense of concern over China’s movements in the South China Sea, which Japan had raised and that it could somehow flow down further south to the Pacific?
RICHARD MARLES: No, that wasn't the issue at PALM at all. But you are right about America being there and maritime security being an important part of PALM but that’s very much in the context of this.
The exclusive economic zones for many countries of the Pacific represent their most important economic asset. Being able to have appropriate maritime security, principally in relation to the prevention of illegal fishing, is central to ensuring these countries get the economic return that is owed to them from their natural resource.
What we're talking about in terms of maritime security is really how more security can be put in place and, perhaps as importantly, a better coordination of the efforts of all the players within the region with assets with the capacity to engage in security.
So again, this is a welcome intervention on the part of Japan to assist in maritime security in the region. Having America there was really important for that because they obviously have much to offer in terms of the assets they have available.
A lot’s being done with America in getting a coordination of those assets to see greater maritime security [indistinct].
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