Judo diplomacy: fighting China's sway in Samoa

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on August 8, 2019 - Duration: 02:07s

Judo diplomacy: fighting China's sway in Samoa

Derek Sua is learning the Japanese martial art judo with the help of his black-belt Japanese sensei, paid for by Japan.

It's part of a bigger push to forge ties between the Pacific islands and Washington's regional allies, a countermeasure to China's expanding grip in the South Pacific.

Jayson Albano reports.

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Judo diplomacy: fighting China's sway in Samoa

Derek Sua knows that size doesn't matter in judo.

In his native Samoa, the Japanese sport is still trying to find popularity, so training and worthy opponents are difficult to come by.

His Japanese sensei is just a third of his size, but he can throw Sua to the mat.

And he comes at no cost, paid for by Japan.

That offer, and the training, could help him qualify for Tokyo's Olympic Games.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMOAN JOKUDA DEREK SUA SAYING: "I asked the sensei (teacher) if there's a chance for a big person like me and then he told me, 'in judo, there's no weight limits', then I said 'oh yeah, can I start straight away?'

And then he said 'next day'." Japan's outreach to help Sua is part of a bigger battle.

It's among U.S. allies vying with China to influence the South Pacific.

The region has rich resources and nations there control strategic locations.

'Soft' or 'cultural' diplomacy is part of winning them over.

China's ramping up sports programmes there.

The U.S. and others are fighting back.

Australia and New Zealand use rugby, popular in the islands.

For Japan, judo is one way to get to grips with China's push.

Sua's coach says he must train to face far bigger opponents in a category without weight limits.

And Coach Kamibayashi has plenty of tricks to take on heavier rivals.

(SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) JAPANESE JUDO COACH, KOHEI KAMIBAYASHI SAYING: "One of the moves I am good at is called "Seoi Nage," a shoulder throw.

This move, especially when done by crouching down low, is effective in throwing a bigger opponent without using a lot of force.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMOAN JOKUDA DEREK SUA SAYING: "I don't have anyone my size.

There are people but they're mostly like doing rugby instead of judo.

I'm fighting mostly like, the smallest guy here but there's nothing I could do.

Just accept what we have and move on from there." Sua just might have better luck in Japan.

He and several other Samoans will be flown there in August for training, thanks to Tokyo.

And the next stop after that - the Judo World Championships.

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