The Japan Coast Guard has provided its counterpart in the Pacific island country of Kiribati with technical support to crack down on illegal fishing boats.

The move came following China’s recent increased presence in the region.

Japan sent three officers for the support programme from 19 – 26 June in the capital, Tarawa. The programme was the first of its kind extended by Japan to Kiribati. It involved training on how to conduct on-board inspections and how to approach and climb aboard a ship using a small boat.

Kiribati has only about 40 coast guard personnel and one patrol boat. It is exploring effective ways to crack down on a growing number of illegal fishing boats operating around the country known for its rich fishery resources.

The Japanese officers included members of a special team that helps foreign coast guard agencies build their capacity for maritime safety and security. Japan’s coast guard set up the team in 2017 to help realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

A boat captain at the Kiribati Police Service’s maritime unit, Tom Redfern, said the training provided by Japan was important and helpful to develop his nation’s capabilities.

A Japan Coast Guard official, Nishimura Issei, said the Kiribati side sought martial arts techniques for use during crackdowns. He said Japan is willing to give Kiribati necessary support in both hardware and software.

In recent years, Japan has been expanding its support for Pacific island nations, as many of them have traditionally friendly ties to the country.

In 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan provided vaccines to Kiribati through the COVAX Facility, a framework led by the World Health Organization for the development and distribution of vaccines.

In January this year, Japan opened an embassy in Kiribati, saying their bilateral relations are growing in importance.

Japan has also hosted a summit-level gathering, called the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting, every three years since 1997 to discuss maritime security, climate change and other issues.

Kiribati switched its diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China in September 2019 following a similar move by the Solomon Islands, another Pacific island nation.

Kiribati has been receiving infrastructure investment and support including building a port facility and a runway from China, which is pushing for the Belt and Road initiative to create a massive economic zone. China is believed to be trying to secure maritime resources from Kiribati in exchange for the development support.

China is also believed to be moving to ramp up its military involvement in the region. Beijing announced in April 2022 that it had signed an agreement on security cooperation with the Solomon Islands.

In an apparent countermeasure against China’s move, the administration of U. S President Joe Biden disclosed in July last year that it would begin talks with Kiribati and Tonga on opening embassies there.