New Members of SPINF's Steering Committee

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The Sasakawa Peace Foundation The Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund Tokyo, Japan


From April 1998 the Pacific Island Nations Fund has added two new members to its Steering Committee, making a total of five.

Current Steering Committee Members

Yohei Sasakawa, President, Nippon Foundation

Akio Watanabe, Professor, Aoyama Gakuin University // new member

Yoichi Yokobori, Professor, Wayo Womens University // new member

Reizo Utagawa, Managing Director, Nippon Foundation

Akira Iriyama, President, Sasakawa Peace Foundation


Akio Watanabe Professor, Aoyama Gakuin University Scholar of International Politics

Prof. Watanabe has for many years served as a member of the Committee for Pacific Island Countries at the Foundation for Advanced Information and Research, Japan. In 1988, he put together Japan's first policy proposals for Pacific Island countries, published by the Foundation under the title Taiheiyo toshokoku ni taisuru Nihon no enjo e no teigen, known in English as the "Pacific Aid Initiative." He has also continued his studies of Pacific Island countries as a member of the Pacific Basin Cooperation Study Group founded by the late Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira. He received a Ph.D. from the Australian National University for his studies on "The Okinawa Problem," and was a professor at the University of Tokyo before taking on his current position at Aoyama Gakuin University.

His many publications include Ajia Taiheiyo no kokusai kankei to Nihon (The International Relations of the Asia-Pacific and Japan), University of Tokyo Press, 1992.


Yoichi Yokobori Professor, Wayo Womens University International Journalist

Prof. Yokobori was head of the Singapore Bureau of Kyodo News Agency from 1972 to 1976 and head of its Sydney Bureau from 1980-1982, when he was in charge of reporting on various Pacific Island countries. He later, from 1983 to 1993, was an editor at the Kyodo News Agency's main office in Tokyo. In 1988, he revisited Oceania as an instructor-lecturer on the government-sponsored "Japanese Youth Goodwill Cruise." He has altogether visited and reported on some 80 countries throughout the world. He first seriously took up the study of Okinawa-related problems forty years ago as a "Yamato Journalist," and is still very highly respected by the Okinawa media.

Among his many publications is Ajia Taiheiyo tokuhaiin shuzai noto (News-gathering Notes of an Asia-Pacific Correspondent), Satsuki Press.


Interview with SPINF Chairperson Yohei Sasakawa in welcoming the new Steering Committee members.

Q. What do you expect from the new committee members?

A. Both of these gentlemen are already well-known in Japan as specialists on the Pacific Islands, and I'm looking forward to seeing their various thoughts and ideas finding practical application in the implementation of the Fund's activities.

Q. May I ask about the background to the Fund's establishment?

A. I believe there were two things in particular that motivated me to set up the Fund. Many years ago, Japanese Government actively backed the nomination of Mr. Hiroshi Nakajima to be Secretary General for the West Pacific at WHO, the World Health Organization. When he didn't seem likely to get enough votes, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs looked for some help from us. My late father, Ryoichi Sasakawa, had served as honorary consul for the Kingdom of Tonga and also had a deep friendship with Papua New Guinea's first prime minister, the Right Honorable Michael T. Somare, and had helped from behind the scenes to support Papua New Guinea's independence. It turned out that Mr. Nakajima was selected by a margin of a single vote and that the two votes cast in his favor by Tonga and Papua New Guinea played a decisive role. It is in ways like this, among many others, that Pacific Island nations can be considered an important region for Japan.

In the second place, Japan caused the Pacific islands a lot of pain and hardship during the Second World War. Despite this fact, we still hear today of areas in the Pacific where people feel a special affinity for Japan. So I think it is the Japanese people's responsibility to be of some benefit to this region. I felt there is a need to build continuing relationships with the Pacific Island Nations not just by the Foreign Ministry and through official overseas assistance, but also on the citizen level as well.

Q. How do you assess the work of the Fund over the past ten years?

A. It has, I think, been a decade in which we have developed our program pragmatically, through a process of trial and error. Though people tend to speak of the "Pacific Island countries" en bloc, each possesses a different history and culture. I think there have been limitations to the degree a very small staff can operate a Fund which encompasses a region occupying a third of the globe. That said, we have from the early days of the Fund worked to create valued links with Australia and New Zealand, which we respect for their long-nurtured relationships with the region's island countries.

Today I'm afraid we live in a period when many Japanese have little to spare either materially or spiritually, but the Pacific Island Nations Fund is, I believe, carrying out important work, even if on a modest scale.

Q. Lastly, could I ask you to tell us about some of your personal memories in relation to the Pacific Island countries?

A. It was a big task to bring the representatives of many Pacific islands together in Tokyo for the purpose of holding the Pacific Islands Nations Conference and setting up our Fund in 1988. Ten heads of state from Pacific Island nations were invited and participated in the Conference, which, chaired by the then former Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari, was carried out to a very successful conclusion. So we were able to realize something that the government had wanted to do ever since the time of the cabinet of Prime Minister Ohira.

After the Conference we took everyone to China, where they had a chance to engaged in talks with Li Peng, who was then Prime Minister. This was probably the first, if not the last, time that ten heads of state visited China together in one group. The two-kilometer-long line of cars moving from one place to another around Beijing was a magnific sight to see. But what was of course most impressive was the face-to-face interaction between the head of a nation of a billion people and the leaders of the island countries whose populations number only in the several tens of thousands.

Then, too, as it is my belief that international exchange and cooperation begins with contacts between individuals. I recall with special fondness the pleasant time I spent with the Right Honorable Sir Kamisese Mara during my visit to Fiji, when he was Prime Minister. (He is now Fiji's President.) At that time, I was asked whether the Fund might be able to help support a project to upgrade the distance-education network at the University of the South Pacific. USPNET, as it is called, is used to promote education and training in the region by linking via satellite the island countries dotting the vast Pacific. Later, the Fund made a concrete contribution to this project by carrying out a feasibility study, which, I am pleased to say, has led to the realization of the project with assistance from the Japanese government and additional cooperation from Australia and New Zealand. This would not have come about without my having had the opportunity to become personally acquainted with Sir Kamisese Mara.

It is my anticipation that the Fund's new Steering Committee members will continue to build relationships of personal trust with individuals in the Island Nations.

For more information, please contact: Rieko Hayakawa(Ms.), Program Officer The Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund 3-12-12 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo Japan 108 Tel: 81-3-3769-6359 Fax: 81-3-3769-2090 E-Mail: WWW:

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