Japan, Pacific island nations meet to discuss maritime issues, trade

Ministers and other officials from Japan and the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum gathered in Tokyo on Saturday to discuss maritime order, resource management and new ways to cooperate in trade and investment, while taking stock of progress on pledges made at a summit last year.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Foreign Minister Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands co-chaired the one-day meeting as a follow-up to the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting held in Okinawa Prefecture in May 2012.

The participants are expected to discuss ways to develop natural resources and preserve maritime order as Pacific island nations are often rich in fisheries and other natural resources, including natural gas and nickel, and provide important shipping routes for such resources.

Japan, which faces a growing Chinese maritime presence and China's challenge to its sovereignty over a group of islands in the East China Sea, hopes to underscore the importance of freedom of navigation and of observing international law, a Japanese official said.

Kishida is also expected to report to other participants on progress made by Japan in fulfilling its commitment made at last year's summit to make "maximum efforts" to provide up to $500 million in aid over three years.

The minister also plans to announce progress made in Tokyo's commitment to issue a new type of multiple-entry visa to short-term visitors from Pacific island nations and exempt those with diplomatic or official-use passports from visa requirements.

The ministers and other officials are also expected to discuss tackling climate change, including rising sea levels, which threaten the survival of low-lying islands in the Pacific.

Japan is meanwhile expected to announce where the next Japan- Pacific Islands Forum summit will be held in 2015. Tokyo may pick Fukushima Prefecture in the country's northeast for the venue of the triennial summit, a senior Japanese official said earlier.

On Sunday, participants from the island nations are scheduled to visit Matsushima, a picturesque island near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture that suffered damage from the massive tsunami in March 2011, to see recovery efforts firsthand.

The Pacific Islands Forum groups Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Japan has hosted the summits six times since 1997.