Japan recognises tiny Pacific island of Niue as a country

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Friday added one more country to its map of the world, recognising the tiny Pacific island nation of Niue - with its sum total of 1,611 inhabitants.

The move makes Niue the 195th country Tokyo has recognised and comes as the world's third largest economy looks to bolster its influence in the South Pacific to counter a Chinese charm offensive in developing nations.

"We have decided to exercise diplomatic recognition out of our wish to strengthen cooperation (with Niue) in the international sphere," Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a regular press briefing.

Niue, a self-governing democracy known by its inhabitants as "the Rock", has no traffic lights and lies around 2,400km north-east of New Zealand.

Its 260-sq-km area makes it about 1.5 times the size of Washington DC, according to the CIA's World Factbook, and the second least populous country recognised by Japan after Vatican City.

While Britain's Queen Elizabeth is its head of state, day-to-day governance is carried out by Prime Minister Toke Talagi and his three cabinet ministers, who are held in check by a 20-strong legislature.

Niue is in free association with New Zealand, from which it gained a form of independence in 1974, and has been recognised by around a dozen nations.

The country will participate in the Pacific Islands Leaders' Meeting in Japan later this month, a forum Tokyo hosts every three years, which also includes senior officials from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Japan has been attempting to boost its profile in the Pacific, at a time of growing Chinese economic and political influence there, with the Asian giants competing to offer aid and development assistance.

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