Japan offers vaccines to Taiwan-friendly islands in the Pacific

·4-min read
Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (File Photo)
Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (File Photo)

Tokyo [Japan], July 3 (ANI): Aiming to curb Chinese expansionism jointly with the US, Japan has urged leaders from Pacific island nations to unite against the authoritarianism of China by promising COVID-19 vaccine doses and economic assistance to the region.

"The Pacific region faces new challenges, like competing with authoritarianism," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) on Friday, reported Nikkei Asia.

In addition to Japan, the online event drew 16 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and two regions.

As Beijing pressures island nations to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Japan and the US are stepping up efforts to keep them on their side in a tug of war against an authoritarian China.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai told reporters after the summit that China or Taiwan "were not discussed at all." But Beijing's growing clout in the region, driven by its financial might, loomed large over the proceedings.

"The PALM leaders emphasized their renewed and strengthened commitment to the importance of free, open and sustainable maritime order based on the rule of law," according to a joint statement from the summit.

The document reiterated "the importance of all states respecting international law," including on freedom of navigation and overflight through or over the high seas and exclusive economic zones, in a veiled criticism of China.

Suga called for deeper ties between Pacific island countries in a "free and open Indo-Pacific." Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano said the leaders discussed how to better fulfill their duty as the keepers of the Pacific.

The newspaper also reported that Japan promised to assist the island countries in COVID-19 and infrastructure development, including by providing approximately three million vaccine doses. Shipments are set to begin this month.

China has ramped up pressure on Pacific island nations in recent years in its push to isolate Taiwan. Kiribati and the Solomon Islands cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 2019.

Of the 16 countries besides Japan at the PALM summit, just four -- Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru -- still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

China is only expected to toughen its stance on Taiwan. "Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China's complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China," President Xi Jinping said in a Thursday speech for the party's 100th anniversary.

On June 4, the Japanese government delivered 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan, which has encountered difficulties in procuring vaccines amid a global shortage.

The donation followed repeated warnings by Beijing, which regarded the move as political manoeuvrings by "Taiwan separatists" and insists that its own vaccine should be distributed in Taiwan.

Tokyo offended China by delivering the vaccines on the day marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 (Tokyo maintains that this was purely coincidental).

The same day, the US government announced that Taiwan would be among the countries included in the first tranche of the approximately 80 million doses the US will distribute worldwide.

Lawmakers from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, were also calling on the government to strengthen ties with Taiwan and prepare for various contingencies in the Taiwan Strait.

With these developments, the very foundations of Beijing's efforts to isolate Taiwan seemed to be collapsing. No doubt with some encouragement by the Biden administration, countries that hitherto had been reluctant to mention Taiwan in their official statements were now doing so; what's worse, such departures from longstanding policy seemed to suggest that the Biden administration's commitment to a renewed multilateral posture in the Indo Pacific was bearing fruit, and that Taiwan was, if not at the very center of it, then at least one of its components, reported The National Interest.

These recent developments are largely attributable to Beijing's behaviour since 2020, assertiveness that has fuelled apprehensions within the region while underscoring the necessity of embracing Taiwan so as to deter possible escalation by China.

Japan looks to curb China's push toward unification in cooperation with partners like the US and Europe. It called for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait in a joint leaders statement with the US in April, and with the Group of Seven in June. (ANI)

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