I am pleased to be back in Samoa for the second time in a month … this time to meet a high-level US delegation arriving from Washington. Leading the delegation is my good friend Dr Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. With him will be Admiral Patrick Walsh (Commander of the US Pacific Fleet), Nisha Biswal (Assistant Administrator of USAID), Brigadier General Richard Simcock (Principal Director of the Office for South/Southeast Asia), and several others.
During the trip the team will meet with government officials, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, veterans, scientists, and members of the general public in Samoa and seven other island nations.
Discussions will focus on the full range of issues of concern to those of us whose homelands touch the waters of the Pacific … including fisheries security, climate change, sustainable economic development, disaster planning, humanitarian relief, support for civil society, renewable energy R&D, regional political issues, and donor nation coordination.
Also on the agenda will be the Pacific Island Forum (to be held in Auckland just before the Rugby World Cup this September), as well as American business investment in the Pacific and ways to increase mutually beneficial business opportunities.
The composition of the delegation and the diversity of the agenda illustrate America’s “3D” commitment to robust engagement in the Pacific … through Diplomacy, Development, and Defense. We already have strong bilateral political, economic, and security relationships in our shared Pacific neighborhood. The current trip will take a broad inter-agency approach to building further on that firm foundation.
The journey started yesterday in Kiribati, where the delegation met with President Anote Tong for discussions focused on climate change and economic development prospects. There were wreath-laying ceremonies at a World War II monument and cemetery to commemorate the immense sacrifices made by Americans during the Battle of Tarawa and elsewhere in the Pacific in the service of peace, stability, and self-determination.
As I write this, the delegation is en route from Kiribati to meet me here in Samoa, arriving in time for dinner. We will launch the visit with an outdoor banquet for senior officials and other community leaders, so that the American team can get a sense of the diversity and vibrancy of Samoan society in a festive, casual environment.
The next day we will meet with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to discuss a full range of Pacific issues and announce several specific new projects. We will lay wreaths at the World War II and World War I Memorials in central Apia.
The delegation will then split into three groups … with the diplomats, development specialists, and security folks fanning out to meet with a large variety of international and Samoan development, science, security, private sector, and civil society groups relevant to their specialties and programs.
After the visit to Samoa concludes, I will fly back to New Zealand, and the delegation will continue on to Tonga. There the group will meet with King George Tupou V, Prime Minister Tui’vakano, and other senior officials. I know that the delegation will make it a point to acknowledge the important contribution of the Royal Tongan Marines in Afghanistan.
The next stop will be the Solomon Islands, where the delegation will meet with Prime Minister Danny Philip and representatives from Solomon’s Foreign Ministry, lay wreaths at the World War II American Memorial at Guadalcanal, and conduct talks with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
From the Solomons, the delegation will move on to Papua New Guinea to meet with Acting Prime Minister Samuel Abal and Foreign Minister Ano Pala. Talks in Port Moresby will be particularly extensive, given PNG’s important role in various international and Pacific fora. A broad range of regional issues will be discussed, including the significant commitment of American business investment in the nation’s growing economy.
The next stops will be in Palau to meet with President Toribiong and other senior officials … then the Federated States of Micronesia to meet with President Emanuel Mori … and then the Republic of the Marshall Islands to meet with senior leaders there.
In those three nations the team will also engage with representatives of civil society and the business community, and visit infrastructure and project sites such as hospitals and schools. The delegation will express the deep appreciation of the United States for the valuable contributions and service of Palauan, Micronesian, and Marshallese citizens in the Armed Forces of the United States, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is going to be an extraordinarily busy, productive, and important working tour across the Pacific. As Dr Campbell stated before leaving Washington, “This is really an unprecedented high-level trip, and it will underscore our whole-of-government commitment by the United States to fulfill our longstanding moral, strategic, and political interests in the Pacific.”
Dr Campbell is spot on. The United States has been, is, and always will be an engaged, active, and forward-looking Pacific nation … because of our geography … because of our history … because of our demographics … because of our values and world outlook … and because of our culture.
American territory stretches far into the Pacific on both sides of the Equator. Our five Pacific States (Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska) and several territories (including American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) are home to more than 50 million people.
More than one-and-a-quarter million Pacific Islanders live in the US. That number jumps substantially if one adds in our citizens of Filipino and Indonesian extraction. The Polynesian-American community is growing at a rate three-and-a-half times faster than that of the general US population.
Over the past 50 years 13,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in Pacific Island nations. (Another 8,500 have served in the large archipelago nations of Indonesia and the Philippines.) The US has numerous other programs active in the Pacific, many of which are specifically designed for the region, including the annual Pacific Partnership and Pacific Angel humanitarian expeditions.
The dozen memorials, monuments, and cemeteries that the delegation will be visiting during its trip are a further powerful testament to the tangible commitment that Americans have made in the Pacific. Not for short-term gain. But for long-term peace, stability, and freedom.
I see that it’s almost 3:00 pm here in Apia, so I need to sign off and head to the airport to greet the delegation. The drill sergeants cautioned us a few times in Ambassador Boot Camp that it’s never a good idea to lose a visiting VIP, particularly an Assistant Secretary or Admiral.