Interview with Mr. Hideyuki Shiozawa, Senior Program Officer of the Pacific Island Nations Program

January 27, 2020

Since its establishment in 1986, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) has made strengthening ties with Pacific island nations a central theme of the foundation’s work. Accordingly, the Pacific Island Nations Program, previously known as the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund, focuses on a range of challenges spanning from regional security to environmental sustainability. To highlight recent developments in the program, Senior Program Officer Hideyuki Shiozawa laid out the progress made in promoting environmentally conscious tourism, Track 1.5 and Track 2 dialogues, and additional plans for the future.

Could you begin by introducing the environmentally conscious tourism project?
Mr. Shiozawa: In February 2016, SPF along with the Nippon Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Republic of Palau to promote environmentally conscious tourism and enhance the maritime security capabilities of the country. Around this time, Palau had started seeing a growing number of foreign tourists visiting the country while also experiencing high economic growth of over 10%. As a result, some residents began raising concerns about the possible environmental and social impacts of these changes. Both the government and the people of Palau wanted to balance the economic benefits and growth from tourism while preserving their natural and cultural resources. This formed the basic idea behind the MOU.
Following the signing of the MOU, SPF began coordinating a series of discussions in Japan and Palau between experts and academics who specialize in ecotourism and the international issues affecting the Pacific island countries. These discussions also incorporated practitioners with experience running ecotourism programs throughout Japan, including in Toba and Kumano in Mie prefecture, Iriomote in Okinawa, and Ninohe in Iwate prefecture. Based on these discussions and in coordination with the Palau national and local governments, we established two pillars for our strategy to realize environmentally conscious tourism in Palau.
The first pillar consisted of conducting tourism carrying capacity surveys to provide evidence-based indicators to assist the Koror State Government in Palau in managing its tourist attractions in the Rock Islands South Lagoon, which is a World Heritage site. These surveys involved careful data collection, including taking photos of certain locations over an eight-hour period to track the number of boats and tourists that passed through the area. We also recorded noise levels in addition to collecting some subjective information based on tourist questionnaires.

The benefit of creating this type of informational record is that in cases where companies or individuals might resist management of the tourism sector, the Koror State Government can point to these objective indicators to back up their policy decisions. Similarly, the government can also use this information to adjust its management strategies to match the actual conditions on the ground.
Community members in Palau participating in workshops and trial tours as part of the environmentally conscious tourism project
The second pillar of our strategy was an emphasis on community-based ecotourism. Historically, the economic benefit from the tourism sector in Palau has not gone directly to the general population or the people living in rural areas. Through our projects, we want to ensure that these financial resources flow from the tourism sector to members of the local community.

In addition, maintaining and preserving the natural and cultural assets in the region are fundamental aspects of community-based ecotourism. In Palau’s case, the country’s constitution endows each state government with the right to manage the resources on land and within 12 miles of the coastline. Since the population of each state is very small, the relationships between the community members and the state governments are very close, and the community members act as the stewards of the local natural and cultural resources.
Community-based ecotourism is also related to climate change. Naturally, the people living in the region will be the first ones to notice any changes in the environment. Those observations can then be raised up to the state government, national government, and then reported to international society.
This project is nearing the stage when tours will be available to the public. Could you tell us what is happening now? 

Mr. Shiozawa: For this project, four of the ten states of Babeldaob Island in Palau will offer the first round of ecotourism packages. The best place to learn more about the individual tours is through the website, which will go public on February 9, 2020. We selected that launch day because it is full moon, which in Palau is believed to signal the optimal time to begin a new endeavor.

The website includes an introduction to the different regions in Babeldaob Island, descriptions of half-day and full-day tour plans, and information about reservations. The website will be available in English, Japanese, and Taiwanese, but the program will mainly be geared to English speakers at first.

Learn more about the individual tour packages on the website

These tours are designed to provide genuine, local experiences to eco-conscious tourists in groups of up to eight people. People can experience a part of the livelihood of the people in Palau by staying in a village with the local community and catching fish, eating local fruits and other specialties, or visiting cultural assets and natural features. The tour guides are members of the local community who can tickle the visitors’ imagination and share stories of the local areas.

Based on the experience of launching the ecotourism program in Palau, we plan to share the strategies and outcomes as a model of sustainable tourism. Since this kind of sustainable tourism is still relatively uncommon, we hope that Palau can serve as a model for other Pacific island countries, small island nations, and international society in general. In particular, we are planning to present our findings at the Our Ocean conference in Palau this August.
Let’s shift gears to the Cutting Edge Series, which supports Track 1.5 and Track 2 dialogues between Japan and Pacific island nations. How did this project get started?
Mr. Shiozawa: Beginning around the mid-2000s, the Pacific islands region underwent a series of rapid changes due to the fragility of the global economy, shrinking national trust funds in individual countries, and the rising prices of fuel, oil, and crops. Along with these economic changes, some countries were also experiencing significant domestic political shifts.
While the Japanese government and Pacific island countries have worked hard to maintain robust relations, in light of this rapidly changing international climate, we at SPF identified some gaps between the understanding of the Japanese government side and the reality on the ground in Pacific island countries. To fill those gaps in the official Track 1 diplomacy, SPF designed the Cutting Edge Series, which takes advantage of our position as a private foundation to create a platform for sharing information between Pacific island countries and Japan.

The Cutting Edge Series offers a platform to share information between Pacific island countries and Japan

Beginning in September 2016, SPF has arranged a series of seminars and meetings on a range of critical issues including fisheries diplomacy, the results from the Seventh and Eight Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM7 and PALM8), and regional security. Our basic goal is to provide pipelines for communication at many levels between Japan and Pacific island nations. We completely respect Track 1 dialogues and the important outcomes of official diplomacy, but we also believe there is a role for SPF in supporting effective communication.
― The next Cutting Edge symposium is coming up at the end of January 2020. Can you preview the discussion for us?
Mr. Shiozawa: The theme of each symposium is always decided based on consultations with stakeholders in the Pacific island nations including embassies, the national governments, and intellectuals. For the next meeting, we will focus on regional security from the perspectives of Pacific island countries.
Generally, when you discuss security in Japan, the conversation turns almost exclusively to military or defense issues. However, from the perspective of the Pacific island nation countries, the single greatest regional threat is climate change, so they are more concerned about nontraditional or human security topics. Accordingly, the next Cutting Edge symposium will focus on the connection between regional security and climate change, disaster response, and perhaps governance.
We hope to involve some regional organizations, the UN system, and the embassies of Pacific island countries and small countries in this upcoming dialogue. We will focus on the perspectives of countries from the region – namely Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu, and Nauru – and look forward to fruitful discussions.
Profile of Mr. Hideyuki Shiozawa

Mr. Shiozawa holds a Master of Science in Seismology from the Graduate School of Science and Engineering of Ibaraki University. Before joining SPF, he served as First Secretary at the Embassy of Japan in Fiji in charge of Politics and Economic Cooperation, especially for Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Pacific Islands Forum, other regional organizations, and UN missions from 2012 to 2015. Prior to his time at the Embassy of Japan in Fiji, he was also an Associate Program Officer with the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund (2009-2012), Economic Adviser at the Embassy of Japan in the Marshall Islands (2006-2009), and JOCV Volunteer and local hired teacher in the Marshall Islands (2003–06).
For more from the Pacific Island Nations Program, please visit the program page.

Interview conducted by Jackie Enzmann, Chief Editor

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