TOKYO (AP) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived in Japan on Thursday as part of her first trip…
TOKYO (AP) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Japan on Thursday as part of her first foreign trip in more than two years as her government seeks to boost the country’s reopening to business and tourism following a pandemic-related border closure. while Japan wants to focus on mutual security concerns, including China’s new alliance with the Solomon Islands.
Ardern arrived in Japan late Wednesday after her three-day visit to Singapore, where her talks with leaders focused on business and bilateral cooperation on climate change and the adoption of low-carbon and green technologies.
Japanese officials say a new China-Solomon Islands security deal, as well as concerns about Beijing’s increasing military activities in the East and South China Seas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will be among the main issues to be discussed when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets Ardern later on Thursday.
“The new security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands could affect security throughout the Pacific region, and Japan is watching developments with concern,” Cabinet Chef Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. “We hope to firmly discuss the issue with New Zealand in the context of realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The security pact allows China to deploy police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands while also opening the door to Chinese warships stopping in port. It has sparked fears of a possible Chinese naval base on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the pact “will not undermine the peace and harmony of our region,” as feared by the opposition and countries like the United States and Australia. Sogavare said his government will not allow China to build a military base there and China has refused to establish a military foothold in the South Pacific.
Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military and coast guard activities in the East China Sea near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu. Contrasting with Beijing’s rising assertiveness, Japan and the US are promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision of rules-based navigation and overflight in the region, which is home to the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Ardern’s stopover in Japan is part of her first trip abroad in more than two years, and her government wants to show New Zealand is reopening to business and tourists following its border closure and strict lockdowns during the pandemic.
New Zealand will reopen its borders to tourists from Japan, Singapore and many other countries from May. International tourism previously accounted for about 20% of New Zealand’s overseas income and more than 5% of its gross domestic product, but evaporated after the pandemic began.
The visit is also a chance for Ardern to get back on the international stage and regain support at home ahead of next year’s elections. While she is universally well regarded internationally, her support at home has declined from previous heights.
AP writer Nick Perry contributed to this report from Wellington, New Zealand.
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