2011 TOP TEN

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.

Educational Advisor Drew Dumas (center) chats to students about studying in the US.

Educational Adviser Drew Dumas chats with students.

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.

Independence Day.

Hawaiian performers in Auckland.

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. 

Golden Bear, Wellington.

TS Golden Bear in Wellington Harbor.

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.

Future Partners take a hands-on approach during a visit to Wellington in November.

Several of the Future Partners take a break from meetings to visit Te Papa.

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.

Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Murray McCully at a signing ceremony for climate change adaption agreements between The United States Government, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme.

Deputy Secretary of State Nides and Foreign Minister McCully meet the press during the PIF.

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. 

*  *  * 

Stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown tomorrow.

The November 2011 issue of Foreign Policy carries an insightful article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on America’s policy and place in the Pacific and Asian regions. It is an excellent read. I won’t reprint it in its entirety, but you can access the piece by clicking here.

In her usual direct and nuanced way, the Secretary articulates the mutual benefits of an active and engaged America, and clearly lays out the tenets of US strategy. She grounds her points in historical context often overlooked in much of today’s sound-bite-driven, faddish popular discourse:

Secretary of State Clinton.

Secretary of State Clinton.

“Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future. The region is eager for our leadership and our business — perhaps more so than at any time in modern history.

“We are the only power with a network of strong alliances in the region, no territorial ambitions, and a long record of providing for the common good. Along with our allies, we have underwritten regional security for decades — patrolling Asia’s sea lanes and preserving stability — and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth.

“We have helped integrate billions of people across the region into the global economy by spurring economic productivity, social empowerment, and greater people-to-people links. We are a major trade and investment partner, a source of innovation that benefits works and businesses on both sides of the Pacific, a host to 350,000 Asian students every year, a champion of open markets, and an advocate for universal human rights.”

The Secretary then proceeds to discuss in detail the Administration’s “multifacted and persistent effort to embrace fully our irreplaceable role in the Pacific, spanning the entire US government.” She notes that “[i]t has often been a quiet effort. A lot of our work has not been on the front pages, both because of its nature — long-term investment is less exciting than immediate crises — and because of competing headlines in other parts of the world.”

In the Secretary’s rubric, the strategy is one of forward-deployed diplomacy, which means engaging actively on the ground throughout the region and adapting in real time to the rapid and often dramatic shifts occurring in today’s interconnected world.

She reviews in detail the six key lines of action in American strategy: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment opportunities, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.

The Cloud. Please click through for image source.

Auckland's Cloud, the site of several Pacific Island Forum events.

The views that the Secretary expresses are not theoretical or philosophical. They are practical, tangible, and operational. Just one excellent example was the nature and scope of US participation in this year’s Pacific Island Forum in Auckland.

The US sent its largest and highest-level delegation ever to attend the PIF’s Post-Forum Dialogue. Led by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, the contingent included senior officials from the Department of State, USAID, White House, Department of Commerce, Peace Corps, Department of Defense, and Coast Guard.

L-R Jimmie Rodgers, Nisha Biswal, David Sheppard Director General Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Dan Clune U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Thomas Nides.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides at the Pacific Island Forum.

Playing key roles along with Deputy Secretary Nides were Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, making his third visit to New Zealand in the past 12 months, and the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Togiola Tulafono, as well my fellow American Ambassadors from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Australia.

Our visitors came to work. The delegation split into several teams based on subject matter focus, and almost two dozen of my colleagues from the Embassy and Consulate General provided support and squired the teams through more than 110 separate meetings with their counterparts from the Government of New Zealand and/or other PIF attendees.

Thomas Nides U.S. Deputy Secretary of State with NZ Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon Murray McCully.

Deputy Secretary Nides and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully meet the press after a productive bilateral meeting.

Our visitors also came to pony up, commit, and execute. Progress was made on a variety of matters including disaster preparedness, climate change, sustainable development, and fisheries. Several MOUs and agreements were signed.

For example, we signed partnership agreements with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme to advance climate change adaptation in the Pacific Small Island States. Those agreements are part of a larger, two-year US$ 21 million package to address climate change impact in the region.

We also signed ship-rider agreements with Nauru and Tuvalu, bringing the total number of those agreements in the Pacific to eight. Under those successful agreements, the US Coast Guard extends the reach and power of island nation law enforcement officers by hosting them on our vessels and aircraft to patrol national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Such joint activity is essential to the economic health as well as the security of partner nations, given the large amount of illegal commercial fishing in the EEZs.

Dr. Jimmie Rodgers Director General Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and Thomas Nides, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.

Deputy Secretary Nides signs an agreement with Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director of the General Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Such collaboration is a natural part of our uninterrupted, generations-long engagement in the region. The United States is itself a Pacific nation with deep, enduring, and historic ties to our Pacific friends and neighbors. And that isn’t going to change. On that note, I’ll give the Secretary the final word:

“I’m well aware that there are those who question our staying power around the world. We’ve heard this talk before. At the end of the Vietnam War, there was a thriving industry of global commentators promoting the idea that America was in retreat, and it is a theme that repeats itself every few decades. But whenever the United States has experienced setbacks, we’ve overcome them through reinvention and innovation.

“Our capacity to come back stronger is unmatched in modern history. It flows from our model of free democracy and free enterprise, a model that remains the most powerful source of prosperity and progress known to humankind … So there should be no doubt that America has the capacity to secure and sustain our global leadership in this century as we did in the last.”

DH Sig

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.

Assistant Secretary Kurt M. Campbell.

Asst Secretary Dr. Kurt Campbell.

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.

The delegation

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.

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