Tuvalu fears that climate change, an existential threat to the Pacific nation, is being forgotten and it worries that fellow island nations could become “pawns” in a global competition between China and the United States, its foreign minister said.
Simon Kofe told Reuters the superpower competition was a concern, distracting attention from climate change, the priority for Pacific islands endangered by rising sea levels.
“It is important that the Pacific handles these issues carefully,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “The last thing we want is that countries in the Pacific are used against each other or used as pawns.”
Kofe grabbed global attention for his nation of 12,000 people last year when he addressed a global climate conference standing ankle deep in the sea to illustrate Tuvalu was “sinking”. Forty percent of the capital district is underwater at high tide, and the tiny country is forecast to be submerged by the end of the century.
Pacific Island leaders will discuss a controversial new security pact between the Solomon Islands and China at a meeting next month, Kofe said. He said he had been briefed on the issue by his Solomon Islands counterpart and that, although Honiara said it was an internal matter, it had regional implications.
“In the Pacific, the way we handle issues, the Pacific way, is by consensus, is by sitting down and face to face,” he said. COVID-19 has prevented in-person meetings for two years, and “some of these critical issues can only be resolved when you meet face to face and really have a frank discussion.”
The United States has warned the Solomon Islands it would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any steps to establish a permanent Chinese military presence, after it struck the security pact, which has also alarmed allies Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Beijing says the deal covers internal security, not a base, and criticism by western countries was interfering in the Solomon Islands’ sovereign decision-making.
Another key issue for Tuvalu is fishing, where China is seeking more agreements with Pacific islands for its fleet. Washington says it will soon announce plans to battle illegal fishing in the region, as part of increased U.S. engagement to counter China’s growing influence.
“The Pacific is the richest fishing ground in the world and is said to be the last healthy fish stock of tuna,” Kofe said. “That is really a tribute to the conservation and management measures applied by the Pacific island countries.”
Tiny Pacific islands, feeding the world from their economic exclusion zones, carry a disproportionate burden, he said.
“Tuna is supporting the economies of Japan, China, many countries around the world,” he said. “Bigger players that are coming into the region need to listen and look at what the Pacific is doing right now and use that as lessons for collaboration on issues other than fisheries.”
Seeking an international platform on climate change, Tuvalu has proposed its former governor-general, Iakoba Taeia Italeli, become secretary general of the Commonwealth – the first time a Pacific nation has sought the role in the grouping.
“It’s time for the Pacific to have a chance to lead and unite the Commonwealth,” Italeli told Reuters in the same interview, conducted remotely.
Commonwealth heads of government, meeting in Rwanda in June, will select the next public face of the 54-member group of countries with ties to the former British empire. The incumbent, British peer Patricia Scotland, is running for another term in the hotly contested race.
The Commonwealth had “failed to speak with one voice” at COP26, Italeli said, despite including 32 of the world’s 42 smallest states, which are heavily affected by climate change.
At the next global climate change conference, in Egypt in November, Tuvalu will continue its push for easier financing for small islands states to build the physical infrastructure they need to “save themselves”, Italeli said.
U.S., Japan, Australia, and India to launch tracking system to monitor illegal fishing by China, Financial Times reports
U.S., Japan, Australia, and India will unveil a maritime initiative at the Quad summit in Tokyo to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific, the Financial Times reported on Saturday, citing a U.S. official.
The report said that the maritime initiative will use satellite technology to create a tracking system for illegal fishing from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific by connecting surveillance centers in Singapore and India.
U.S. President Joe Biden is visiting Japan to attend the meeting of the Quad group of countries – Australia, India, Japan and the United States in Tokyo- which have increased cooperation in the face of China’s growing assertiveness.
According to the Financial Times report, the maritive initiative will enable these countries to monitor illegal fishing even when the boats have turned off the transponders which are typically used to track vessels.
The U.S.-Indo Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell had said earlier this month that United States will soon announce plans to battle illegal fishing in the U.S.
Several countries in the Indo-Pacific region chafe at China’s vast fishing fleet. They say its vessels often violate their exclusive economic zones and cause environmental damage and economic losses.
WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
The World Health Organization said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.
As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the U.N. agency said, adding it will provide further guidance and recommendations in coming days for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic”, the agency added.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.
Heymann said an international committee of experts met via video conference to look at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation”. The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with the strain that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who show symptoms including bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.
‘Straight to your soul’: Japan’s taiko reinvents drum tradition
In a hall on Japan’s Sado island, 71-year-old Yoshikazu Fujimoto strikes the imposing drum mounted before him, producing a boom so powerful that it reverberates through the floorboards.
Fujimoto is a veteran performer of Japanese taiko drumming, a musical form with roots in religious rituals, traditional theatre and the joyous abandon of seasonal festivals called matsuri.
But for all its ancient pedigree, taiko as a stage performance is a fairly modern invention, developed by a jazz musician and popularised in part by one of Japan’s most famous troupes: Sado island’s Kodo.
Fujimoto is the oldest of the 37 musicians that make up the group, which recruits members through a rigorous two-year training programme.
It was founded partly to attract people to Sado, off Japan’s west coast, and tours internationally, spreading the gospel of taiko.
“Taiko itself is like a prayer,” said Fujimoto, who came to Sado in 1972 to join the group that evolved into Kodo.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Yoshikazu Fujimoto of the Kodo troupe posing for a photo after a perfomance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
“It used to be said that the area reached by the sound of a drum made up a single community,” he said.
“Through taiko… I want to become part of a community with the audience and send a message of living together, a message of compassion.”
It has been a life-long project for Fujimoto, who is a specialist performer of the o-daiko, an enormous single drum mounted on a stand that is struck by a musician standing with his back to the audience and arms raised overhead.
The effect is an all-encompassing wall of sound that seems to enter the ribcage and vibrate through its bones.
And it is highly physical, with Fujimoto grunting in exertion as the muscles in his almost-bare back flex beneath the straps of his tunic with every strike.
|This photo taken on April 26, 2022 shows a craftsperson working on the renovation of a Japanese taiko drum at the Miyamoto Unosuke workshop in Tokyo. Photo: AFP|
‘One with the sound’
“I become one with the sound,” he said. “Playing taiko makes me feel I’m alive.”
Kodo’s performances range from the sombre power of the o-daiko solo to ensemble pieces featuring flute and singing, and even comic interludes that encourage audience participation.
Taiko simply means drum in Japanese, and performers use two main types.
The first is made from a single, hollowed tree trunk with cow or horsehide nailed over each end. The second uses hide stretched over rings attached with ropes to a wooden body.
They have been part of rituals and theatrical artforms like noh and kabuki in Japan for centuries.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Hana Ogawa of the Kodo troupe warming up before a performance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
But drumming in those contexts is often a solemn practice,while modern taiko performance is closer to folk festivals where troupes often made up of local residents play in streets or fields to unite the community, drive away malign influences or pray for a good harvest.
“Contemporary taiko drumming took a lot of inspiration from this local festival drumming and combined with more formal traditional performing arts to evolve into what we see as taiko drumming today,” explained Yoshihiko Miyamoto, whose company Miyamoto Unosuke has made taiko for over 160 years.
Key to that evolution was jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi, who moved festival drumming onto the stage in the 1950s and 60s.
Then in 1969, musician Den Tagayasu moved to Sado to found a taiko troupe that he hoped would attract young people to the island and revitalise it.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performers of the Kodo troupe taking part in a performance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
‘Straight to your soul’
Fujimoto left his native Kyoto to join the group known as Ondekoza, and when they split he stayed and helped found Kodo.
Joining now involves an arduous two-year training programme, where apprentices aged 18-25 live in dorms, without phones or televisions.
“The day starts at 5am, when we get up and immediately go out to stretch. Then we start cleaning and polishing the floors,” said Hana Ogawa, a 20-year-old who completed the trainee programme this year.
After cleaning, the trainees go for a run and then spend the entire day practising, with breaks only for food. They have one day off a week.
It might not be for everyone, but Ogawa, who decided to join Kodo after seeing them perform in high school, has no regrets.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Yoshikazu Fujimoto attending a perfomance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
“I’m happy every day, because I love taiko and I pursued this one goal and achieved it, so it’s a dream come true,” she told AFP.
Taiko drumming has been growing in popularity at home and abroad in recent years, with troupes established in Europe and the United States and a steady rise in overseas orders for Miyamoto’s store.
“Taiko has the power to connect people with its sound,” he said.
“Especially in this contemporary age, you hear the sound of machines everywhere, but taiko uses this raw hide and the drum bodies made by wood,” he added.
“It’s like a sound of nature, it’s very organic. I think that’s one of the reasons it comes straight to your soul.”
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