TOKYO – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Japan on Thursday on her first overseas trip in more than two years, as her government seeks to promote the country’s reopening for business and tourism after the pandemic-related border closures, while Japan wants to focus on mutual security concerns, including China’s new alliance with the Solomon Islands.
Ardern arrived in Japan on Wednesday evening after her three-day visit to Singapore, where her talks with the leaders focused on the economy and bilateral cooperation on climate change and the adoption of low-carbon and green technologies.
Japanese officials say a new security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, along with concerns about Beijing’s growing military activity in the East and South China Seas, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will be among the main issues 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,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. “We hope to discuss the matter strongly with New Zealand as part of achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The security pact allows China to send police and military to the Solomon Islands while opening the door for Chinese warships to stop at port. This has raised concerns about a possible Chinese naval base on Australia’s and New Zealand’s doorstep.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the pact “would not undermine the peace and harmony of our region”, as feared by the opposition and countries like the United States and the United States. Australia. Sogavare said his government would not let China build a military base there, and China denied seeking a military foothold in the South Pacific.
Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military and coastguard activity in the East China Sea near the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, which China claims and also calls Diaoyu. To counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness, Japan and the United States are promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision of rules-based shipping and overflight in the region, home to the busiest sea lanes in the world. world.
Ardern’s stopover in Japan is part of his first overseas trip in more than two years and his government wants to show that New Zealand is reopening to businesses and tourists after its border was closed and shutdowns strict 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 around 20% of New Zealand’s overseas revenue and more than 5% of its gross domestic product, but evaporated after the pandemic began.
The visit is also a chance for Ardern to re-emerge on the international stage and regain support at home ahead of next year’s election. Although generally highly regarded internationally, her support at home has faded from earlier highs.
AP writer Nick Perry contributed to this report from Wellington, New Zealand.