The Cook Islands Herald

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (June 3) – The Japanese may be pouring more money into the Pacific region but questions remain over how meaningful that extra aid assistance will be for the Cook Islands.

Buoyed by the announcement that Japan will provide the Pacific Forum members with US $400 million (45 billion yen) in multilateral aid over the next three years, the Cook Islands still has unresolved bilateral issues with the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

Foremost among those issues is the persistent refusal by Japan to recognize the Cook Islands by way of full diplomatic relations. This stumbling block means that the Cook Islands does not enjoy a meaningful bilateral aid program with Japan, like that established with the People’s Republic of China.

In fact, while Japanese officials are quick to caution Pacific states about the spread of Chinese influence in the region, they do little to advance the political desires of countries like the Cook Islands, which has striven for broad, formal recognition from major players in the international community.

The Cook Islands established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1997 – and a hugely generous aid program to boot – but Japan still balks at the fact that the Cook Islands has held onto New Zealand citizenship since 1965. The citizenship card often gets played as a convenient excuse in the argument that the Cook Islands is therefore not fully independent, and is reliant to a large extent on ‘big brother’ New Zealand. The Japanese consider this to be a political oddity, and cannot look beyond the realities of how the Cook Islands has developed its own international identity, on its own sovereign terms.

The Prime Minister Jim Marurai and his Foreign Minister Wilkie Rasmussen both traveled to Japan for the latest round of Pacific Alliance Leader Meeting talks – the well-oiled, multilateral dialogue, which Japan constructs to showcase its interest in the Pacific – and which provided the means to deliver its aid announcement.

Pacific Alliance Leader Meeting is held every three years and over the course of the next period of the "Okinawa Partnership", Japan has pledged to cooperate with the Forum countries on aspects of the Pacific Plan, and implementing a range of development initiatives. Among these are training opportunities and exchange program, trade, investment, and sustainability options in the advancement of Health issues, Education, and the Environment.

The Cook Islands, and other Forum members, will have to bid for Japan’s generosity by formulating projects.

The Cook Islands Herald:

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