Defence Minister Minoru Kihara pledged Wednesday that Japan will work with Pacific island nations to build a future of peace, stability, and prosperity for them, apparently with China’s growing military clout in the region in mind.

On the second day of ministerial-level defece talks in Tokyo between Japan and Pacific island states, Kihara said the Pacific Ocean must be “free, open and stable” under the global order based on the rule of law.

“In this day and age, unfortunately, attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion have advanced in the world and the Indo-Pacific region,” Kihara said, in a veiled criticism of Beijing’s maritime assertiveness in the area.

Kihara said Japan will continue to help the states build their capabilities in dealing with natural disasters and share knowledge in areas such as influence operation, outer space, cyber defence and artificial intelligence.

He also expressed Tokyo’s willingness to deepen defence collaboration with the Pacific island nations through its new programme
called Official Security Assistance, or OSA, aimed at offering defence equipment for like-minded partners that share fundamental values.

Young people from the military in Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea will be accepted as students in the National Defence Academy of Japan, a university-level training institution for future Japan Self-Defence Forces officers, Kihara added.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea have sent their defence ministers to the talks, with Tonga represented by its crown prince.

From the 11 other participating nations, which have no military forces, senior officials joined the gathering either in person or online, according to the Defense Ministry.

Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Chile, Britain and the United States also participated as “partner” countries, the ministry said.

“We held active discussions on the future of our cooperation, and I feel it was a very meaningful opportunity to boost mutual understanding and trust among the participating nations,” Kihara told reporters after wrapping up the two-day meeting.

It was the second defence ministerial gathering for Japan and Pacific islands, having been launched in September 2021 and held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tokyo will also host the 10th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting scheduled for July. The summit, which has taken place every three years since 1997, involves Japan and 18 countries and territories, including Australia and New Zealand.