Japan on Tuesday began its second ministerial-level defence meeting with Pacific island nations in Tokyo, aiming to counter China’s expanding military clout and maritime assertiveness in the region.

At the two-day talks through Wednesday, Japanese Defence Minister Minoru Kihara and his counterparts will reaffirm the importance of a free, open and sustainable maritime order based on the rule of law, according to his ministry.

Defence officials from Japan and Pacific island countries discussed on Tuesday ways to work together in dealing with influence operations that aim to manipulate public opinions of other countries through political propaganda and disinformation.
The discussion, held in Tokyo, came in light of China’s hegemonic behaviour. Participants also shared opinions on maintaining maritime order and cooperating in the space and cyber fields.

“We are facing a very severe and complex security environment,” Japanese Parliamentary Vice Minister of Defence Shingo Miyake said at the start of the meeting, calling for wide-ranging cooperation including steps against illegal fishing and measures to deal with climate change.

It was the first in-person talks among the countries since the inaugural meeting under the framework was held online in 2021 with the aim of strengthening Japan’s involvement in the South Pacific, which is seeing growing U.S-China tensions.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea have sent their defence ministers to the talks, with the crown prince of Tonga representing his country.

From the other 11 participating nations, which have no military forces, senior officials are joining the meeting either in person or online, the Defense Ministry said.

Japan and Pacific island states launched the multinational defence dialogue framework in September 2021, when they held an online gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The talks come ahead of the 10th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting scheduled for July in Tokyo, involving Japan alongside 18 countries and territories including Australia and New Zealand. Japan has hosted the summit every three years since 1997.

As part of efforts to strengthen relations with developing and emerging nations, often collectively referred to as the “Global South,” Japan has helped bolster the defence and coast guard capabilities of Pacific island states.