Kishida, Ardern call for ‘open and free’ Indo-Pacific

Tokyo, Apr 21 (EFE).- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern on Thursday expressed their joint commitment to back a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” amid China’s military expansionism in the region.

Both leaders reaffirmed their support to maintaining the status quo in the region and the freedom of trade movement in its waters and opposing “coercive actions,” at a press conference after meeting in Tokyo.

The two prime ministers avoided making a direct reference to China and used the term “free and open Indo-Pacific,” coined by Tokyo and Washington to refer to their strategy aimed at countering Beijing’s growing geopolitical influence in the region.

In this context, the recent security pact signed by Solomon Islands and China was another major point on the agenda during Ardern’s Japan visit, as the leader landed in Tokyo after a three-day stop in Singapore.

During her Singapore visit, the New Zealand prime minister expressed concern over the militarization of the Indo-Pacific and said Beijing’s agreement with the pacific nation was unnecessary, as Oceania countries were ready to satisfy the security needs of their neighbors.

Japan is also following these developments “with concern” as the agreement could affect the security of the “entire Pacific region,” government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said on Thursday.

The agreement between Solomon Islands and China opens the possibility of the former asking China to send its security forces in case of “any future instability,” said the archipelago’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare.

However, the aspect that has generated greater tension is the fear that Beijing might establish a naval base on the Pacific territory, although Honiara has denied the possibility.

Japan has for years denounced Beijing’s increasing military activities in the South China Sea, which lies close to the Senkaku islands, controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by China.

Ardern’s visit to Japan, which kicked off on Wednesday, is also aimed at boosting bilateral trade and promoting tourism in New Zealand, which has announced the reopening of its borders in May for foreign visitors from several countries, including Japan, after two years of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. EFE


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