Japan will offer Papua New Guinea “strong support” in the Pacific island nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Friday, as he affirmed the importance of the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region. Following his meeting with Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby, Motegi told reporters in a virtual news conference that a “free and open maritime order based on the rule of law” was important for the “peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region”. The Japanese minister did not explicitly refer to China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas in his comments to reporters. “The cases of infections in Papua New Guinea are small, but the country has been impacted economically by the coronavirus,” Motegi said. “Amid this situation, I conveyed to Prime Minister Marape Japan’s strong support for Papua New Guinea.” He said the two sides would work on details of the assistance. In June, Japan said it would provide a total of 1.9 billion yen (US$17 million) in grant aid to help strengthen Papua New Guinea’s medical and health system and its maritime security efforts. Chinese diplomat’s controversial photo highlights Pacific power struggle The island nation with a population of about 8.9 million has seen some 350 coronavirus cases with three deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Motegi and Marape, who took office in May last year, also signed a document promoting bilateral relations in which Tokyo vowed to boost investments in Papua New Guinea. Motegi is on the first stop of a six-day tour through Tuesday that will also take him to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. He became the first minister from overseas to visit Papua New Guinea since the coronavirus pandemic took hold. US military seeks US$20 billion to combat China’s Indo-Pacific influence Due to strict restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the virus, Motegi’s stay in the Pacific island country was limited to a round-trip between the airport and his hotel, located five minutes by car, where the meeting with Marape took place. Motegi resumed overseas travel this month with recent visits to Britain, Singapore and Malaysia. Before those trips, no Japanese minister had travelled overseas since February due to the pandemic. In Singapore, Motegi reached a deal with his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan to ease coronavirus restrictions for businesspeople and expatriates from next month. Japan, which currently bans entry of all foreign nationals from 146 designated countries and regions in principle, said in late July that it would enter into discussions with 12 Asian economies, including Singapore, on ways to resume travel. Motegi and Balakrishnan, in their first in-person meeting since November last year, also discussed the current situation in the South China Sea – in the face of Beijing stepping up its claims over the disputed waterway – and ways to thwart North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, Motegi said.