PM Abe's visit marks a turning point in Japan-PNG relations | Asia Pacific

PM Abe's visit marks a turning point in Japan-PNG relations

PM Abe's visit marks a turning point in Japan-PNG relations

Updated 10 July 2014, 11:38 AEST

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Papua New Guinea tonight for a two-day visit.

It is the first time in almost 30 years that such a high level Japanese delegation has travelled to PNG and it marks a turning point in relations.

Reporter: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan; Jenny Hayward-Jones, Director of the Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute;

Murray Woo, Chairman, PNG Manufacturers' Council; Douveri Henao, Executive Director, Business Council of PNG

GARRETT: Japan has always been an important player in the Pacific but in the past decade while all the talk has been of the growing influence of China, it has been almost invisible.

Not so anymore.

Earlier this week Minister Shinzo Abe used a speech to the Australian parliament to remind his audience of Japan's long-standing and emotional links with PNG.

ABE: Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan.

GARRETT: Tonight Shinzo Abe arrives in the PNG capital with a 150 strong business delegation.

Jenny Hayward-Jones, Director of the Myer Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute says Mr Abe's visit is intended as a reminder of Japan role in the region.

HAYWARD-JONES: This visit is a big signal to the region and also to China that Japan still has a stake in the region, its trade and investment interests are strong, and it has a political interest if its Prime Minister is prepared to spend 2 days in PNG and bring a huge delegation with him.

GARRETT: During his visit Mr Abe will hold talks with key government ministers and visit the north coast town of Wewak to pay his respects to Japan's war dead but his main interest - and that of his business delegation - is in gas.

In May Papua New Guinea exported its first cargo of LNG - an historic moment which saw the country emerge as an energy supplier to Asia.

Murray Woo, Chairman of the PNG Manufacturers Council, says the Japan's role in the development of PNG's gas is crucial.

WOO: It is the first one to buy LNG off Papua New Guinea and it is a milestone in the history of Paua New Guinea and obviously it is the start of a new phase in the relationship between the two countries.

GARRETT: The Manufacturers' Council and the Business Council of PNG will host a business breakfast on for Mr Abe and his delegation on Friday.

The Business Council's Executive Director Douveri Henao says since the last visit by a Japanese Prime Minister the relationship with PNG has matured.

HENAO: It is a different conversation now. We are selling our gas, the LNG gas to the Osaka Corporation, which of course in turn, sells it to the large cities of Japan such as Tokyo. That relationship demonstrates that we have moved away from a development partner, so to speak, to one of a trading partner.

GARRETT: Mr Abe is bringing a high-level delegation including the company Presidents and Board Chairmen.

PNG's business community will be waiting to hear the latest on plans by Mitsubishi corporation and Itochu for a US$1billion petrochemical plant as well as other investments.

Mr Abe and his PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill will speak at the business breakfast.

Murray Woo is keen to hear what they have to say.

WOO: We hope to hear a very clear direction on the future, on where they can see the benefits of this huge investment in the business relationship that would trickle down to the grassroots here and to see the opportunity that it will create in terms of jobs and employment and opportunities of the average Papua New Guinean to get into business.

GARRETT: Much is at stake for PNG.

If the wider population is to benefit from gas development more jobs are needed.

Jenny Hayward-Jones says Prime Minister O'Neill will be looking for investment in a range of industries.

HAYWARD-JONES: Japanese investors have proved to be very reliable in Papua New Guinea the past so it is very important for O'Neill to secure not only Asian markets but Asian investors. And Japan being particularly reliable and a long and trusted partner, I think, he will be looking for a big step up in investment and perhaps securing more trade deals as well.

GARRETT: We have seen more political ructions in Papua New Guinea with the sacking of the anti-corruption task force and the arrest warrant issued for Prime Minister O'Neill. How will the Japanese be viewing that?

HAYWARD-JONES: Well, I think in Japan, with its own history of instability at the top, will probably take it with a pinch of salt. I think they are quite aware that politics in Melanesia is typically a bit unstable and they will work with the government of the day. so I don't think they will be too concerned about what may or may not be happening to Mr O'Neill at the moment but working to ensure they are working with a stable Papua New Guinea government.

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