TOKYO AP New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be in Japan on Thursday as part of her first trip abroad in more than two years, as her government wants to promote the country's reopening for business and tourism after a Pandemic-related border closure, while Japan wants to focus on mutual security concerns, including China's new alliance with the Solomon Islands.
Ardern arrived in Japan late Wednesday after a three-day visit to Singapore, where she spoke with leaders focused on the economy and bilateral cooperation on climate change and adopting low-carbon and green technologies.
Japanese officials say that a new security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, as well as concerns about Beijing's increasing military activity in the East and South China Seas, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be among the main issues discussed when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets Ardern later Thursday.
The development in Japan is watched with concern, as the new security agreement between China and Solomon Islands could affect the whole Pacific region, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. We hope to discuss the issue with New Zealand in the context of achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific. The security pact allows China to send police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands while opening the door for Chinese warships to stop in port. It has resulted in fears of a Chinese naval base on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that the pact would not undermine the peace and harmony of our region, as has been feared by the opposition and countries including the United States and Australia. Sogavare said his government would not allow China to build a military base there, and China has denied a military foothold in the South Pacific.
Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military and coast guard activity in the East China Sea near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu. In response to Beijing's increasing assertiveness, Japan and the U.S. promote a free and open Indo-Pacific vision of rule-based navigation and overflight in the region, which is home to the world's busiest sea lanes.
Ardern's stopover in Japan is part of her first trip abroad in more than two years, and her government wants to portray that New Zealand is reopening for business and tourists after its border closure and strict lockdowns during the Pandemic.
From May, New Zealand will open its borders to tourists from Japan, Singapore and many other countries. International tourism previously made up about 20% of New Zealand's foreign income and more than 5% of its gross domestic product, but evaporated after the epidemic began.
The visit is a chance for Ardern to appear again on an international stage and gain support at home ahead of elections next year. Her support at home has faded from earlier highs, although she is generally highly regarded internationally.