It’s the time of year for Top Ten lists, with publications and commentators ranking the best, worst, favorite, most powerful, most influential, or most absurd people, things, and events of the year gone by. Although often entertaining, the exercise can also be a useful way to reflect on the meaning of the past twelve months and to focus one’s resolutions for the New Year ahead.
In that spirt, I thought I’d end 2011 with my own list of the events and efforts in which the Embassy played a meaningful role over the past year that most significantly contributed to positive momentum in the US-NZ bilateral relationship. Given the recent level of activity, it certainly was not an easy job to narrow and order the list. After a good bit of thought and revision, here’s the Top Ten countdown:
10. Educational Advising
One of our top priorities at American Mission New Zealand has been retooling our programming to emphasize youth education, outreach, and exchange programs. In 2011 we took a major step forward by creating in the Auckland Consulate General a new full-time position of Educational Adviser.
As I discussed last month, the Educational Adviser will spend his time visiting schools, giving presentations about educational opportunities in the US, assisting prospective students and their parents with applications, providing information on possible financial aid, and otherwise dispensing information and advice about undergraduate and graduate programs at America’s 4,400 tertiary education institutions.
This effort hits my Top Ten list because, in my view, there is no more powerful way of promoting international understanding than facilitating the movement of young people across borders to study, travel, and otherwise explore. If we had done nothing else in 2011 than establish this position and launch this effort, I would have declared the year a success. I have very high hopes for what our new Educational Adviser, who answers to “Drew,” will do in 2012.
9. Pacific Heritage Independence Day Celebrations
Our American Independence Day celebrations this year were very special. On the Fourth of July itself we held a reception in Christchurch to honor a half dozen Kiwis who greatly assisted our team in the days after the February earthquake when we were engaged in difficult search and relief activities in Canterbury. In Auckland and Wellington we organized later Independence Day events to celebrate the deep, vibrant Pacific heritage that the United States and New Zealand share.
Through dance, song, food, and video we were able to illustrate the strong cultural links between the native Hawaiian and Maori peoples, as well as celebrate the long history of positive engagement in the Pacific by the US and New Zealand. The two nations have been, are, and always will be Pacific nations geographically, historically, economically, demographically, and culturally. Those are facts worth remembering, embracing, and cherishing.
Our Polynesian celebrations seemed to resonate well with the 1,000 or so invited guests. The Auckland event was particularly exciting because we held it not in the central business district but in the heart of the Pasifika community in the southern reaches of the city. The evening was great fun and provided a strong platform for launching the Mission’s expanded Pasifika outreach program.
8. TS Golden Bear
The port calls by the TS Golden Bear hit my Top Ten list because they advanced the Mission’s education and exchange programs in particularly powerful ways. Unleashing approximately 300 American university students onto the streets of Wellington and Auckland for several days provided tremendous opportunities for enhancing understanding, building relationships, and generating respect and affection. And frankly, I just really like ships.
As I reported previously, TS Golden Bear is a former US Navy ship now used for training purposes by the California Maritime Academy, which is part of California State University system. Early in the year I contacted the Academy, and the president graciously agreed to reorganize the school’s usual Pacific training schedule to include stops in Wellington and Auckland.
Upon arrival, the crew hosted receptions and conducted tours of the ship for government officials, students, and other community members. The cadets visited local schools, did a good bit of sightseeing, sampled New Zealand nightlife, and even played some rugby. The energy, excitement, and goodwill generated by the Golden Bear visits were unmatched this year, at least until the USA Eagles soared in for the Rugby World Cup.
7. Future Partners Forum
Another significant youth outreach project launched this year was the Future Partners Forum, organized in collaboration with Fulbright NZ and the NZ-US Council. Comprising 11 Kiwi students (drawn largely from my Ambassador Adviser groups) and 11 American students (drawn from the pool of visiting Fulbright scholars), the Future Partners attended the plenary sessions of this year’s US-NZ Partnership Forum in Christchurch and conducted parallel panel discussions and break-out sessions.
Our goal was to have the Future Partners wrestle with the same agenda as the main Forum, formulate recommendations about the future of the US-NZ bilateral relationship, select a couple of spokespersons, and then present their report to the full Forum at the conclusion of the conference. The students participated fully and energized the proceedings. They were finalizing their presentation in a meeting room at AMI Stadium when the February 22nd earthquake literally brought the ceiling down on top of them.
Refusing to be thwarted, the Future Partners continued their work online for several months, convened for a weekend in Wellington, produced a final report entitled The Power of Partnering: Global Challenges and the Role of the US-NZ Relationship, and presented their conclusions to audiences in Wellington and Auckland.
The quality of their work and the courage and tenacity of the Future Partners made this project a shoo-in for the 2011 Top Ten list. Moreover, given their passion and commitment, I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the participants become influential stewards of the US-NZ partnership in their future careers.
6. Pacific Islands Forum
Another clear choice for the List was this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), held in September in Auckland. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides led the largest and highest-level US delegation ever to participate in the annual event. He was accompanied by the Governor of American Samoa, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, and senior officials from the White House, Department of State, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, USAID, Coast Guard, and Peace Corps, among other agencies.
What was significant, though, was not the size of the delegation but the importance of the work accomplished. We divided the American attendees into several subject matter teams and moved them through a packed schedule of more than 100 working meetings. Concrete progress was made on a variety of matters including disaster preparedness, sustainable development, and fisheries, and partnership agreements were signed to advance climate change adaptation in the Pacific Small Island States.
Our participation at the PIF was an integral part of the ongoing rebalancing of the extensive American engagement in the Pacific which in 2011 included a blizzard of meetings with regional leaders, the opening of USAID’s office in Port Moresby, successfully hosting APEC in Honolulu, concluding major free trade deals, pressing forward on TPP, participating actively in the East Asia Summit, collaborating with ASEAN, opening a large new Embassy compound in Suva and new facilities in Apia, Manila, and elsewhere, and much more … ample evidence of what Secretary Clinton refers to as ‘America’s Pacific Century.’
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Stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown tomorrow.