As you know from my tweets and instagrams, I had the great pleasure of spending last week on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for the annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). For me, the highlight of the trip came Thursday evening when Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, his Cabinet, dozens of performers, Dr. McWaine, and I greeted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the airport. It is always an honor for an Embassy to welcome a Secretary of State, but we were particularly delighted to receive a second visit in less than two years.
An enthusiastic welcome for Secretary Clinton on the tarmac in the Cooks.
Being greeted with singing, dancing, vibrant colors, and great enthusiasm.
The Secretary and I weren’t the only Americans in town for the Forum. I welcomed the largest and highest-level U.S. delegation ever to attend the gathering in its 41-year history. I made the same statement at last year’s PIF in Auckland, but this year our presence was even more extensive. With the Secretary and me were the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum (Frankie Reed); U.S. Ambassador to Australia (Jeff Bleich); U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (Teddy Taylor) …
… Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Dr. Esther Brimmer; Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta; U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear; Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Charles Ray; and other officials from the White House, USAID, Peace Corps, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies.
Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands.
Established in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum is an annual regional event which brings together the leaders of 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific – Australia, The Cook Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji (currently suspended), Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. With a permanent Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, the PIF is intended to stimulate regional economic growth and cooperation, and to improve security and governance across the region.
Each year after several days of meetings among the leaders of the PIF member nations, delegations from certain other nations join the leaders in a day of discussion known as the Post-Forum Dialogue. The Dialogue partners are development aid donor nations from within the Pacific region (such as the United States and Japan) and elsewhere (such as several European countries). Multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank) and NGOs (such as the East-West Center) also participate in the Dialogue.
PIF leaders meet during a session of the Forum.
The Secretary and indeed the entire American delegation came to work. As we did last year, my team and I scheduled our various principals for more than 120 separate meetings and public appearances with officials from other nations, NGOs, multilateral institutions, and businesses present. It was a punishing but highly productive schedule for the 48 hours or so that most of our visitors were in town.
Because of the late hour of her arrival, the Secretary went straight to her lodging after the tumultuous welcome at the airport. She started early the next day with a private breakfast meeting with the leaders of the Forum nations at one of my favorite island haunts, Trader Jacks on the wharf. The free-wheeling discussion was warm, candid, and substantive, touching on a wide range of issues and common objectives including ongoing negotiations to renew the Pacific tuna treaty.
On her way into Trader Jacks, the Secretary stops to greet several American nuns based on Rarotonga.
After more than an hour of discussion, the Secretary and island leaders drove to the National Auditorium for the formal start of the Post-Forum Dialogue. Each Dialogue partner made an official statement to the assemblage, and then Prime Minister Puna opened the floor for general discussion. In her remarks, the Secretary talked about America’s long history as a Pacific nation, noting that 70 years ago the U.S. had “made extraordinary sacrifices on many of the islands represented” and had since then “underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely.”
During the morning recess, the Secretary greeted members of the public and viewed various exhibits of island products and projects displayed in the Auditorium courtyard. She and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea then held a lengthy bilateral meeting that covered a variety of issues of importance to the two nations. Our Ambassador to PNG Teddy Taylor participated with the Secretary in the bilat while I met with several Cook Islands entrepreneurs about business and environmental projects being launched.
Secretary Clinton poses for a family photo with Forum leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation. She is flanked by Prime Ministers Key (left) and Puna (right) of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, respectively.
When the bilat with Prime Minister O’Neill concluded, the Secretary and other members of our delegation drove the short distance up the hill to the residence of New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, John Carter. There we had lunch with Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and other Kiwi officials. The discussion was wide ranging and cordial, as one would expect among good friends with aligned values.
After lunch the Secretary and Prime Minister walked across the front lawn to meet the assembled American and Kiwi press. They made short statements and then entertained questions. In her statement the Secretary noted the close working relationship between the two countries. She also referenced new programs that the U.S. was launching at the Forum to support our Pacific island friends in several key areas including promoting sustainable economic development, protecting biodiversity, advancing regional security, and supporting the advancement of women in the Pacific.
Prime Minister Key and Secretary Clinton meet the press after lunch.
The next engagement on the agenda was a strategic trilateral discussion among the United States, Australia, and New Zealand led by the Secretary, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, and Kiwi Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The discussion focused on promoting development and security cooperation in the Pacific, including with respect to issues of sustainability, good governance, and support for civil society and democratic institutions.
The American delegation then drove from the High Commissioner’s residence to Tamarind House to host an event commemorating America’s historic and ongoing peace and security partnerships in the Pacific, an issue of particular importance to the Obama Administration. The Secretary was joined on the beachfront dais by Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (a.k.a. Pacom) and Rear Admiral Charles Ray, District Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District based in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Sec. Clinton arrives at Tamarind House with Admirals Locklear (right) and Ray (left).
The three principals took turns discussing America’s century-long engagement in the Pacific, particularly the vast contributions made by the United States to the regional peace and security that have allowed other nations to develop, grow, and prosper.
That’s a point too often overlooked. In an era of short attention spans, short memories, and binary thinking, it’s important to remind ourselves of the laws of cause and effect as well as of the broader, more complex context in which current events manifest.
The Secretary began her remarks by framing America’s engagement in the Pacific region as ”a model of partnerships that reflect our shared values, delivers practical benefits, and helps create stronger economies and societies. Our goal is to help the island nations of the Pacific realize their own aspirations, reach your own goals.”
She noted that “[w]e already work closely with our partners on a range of transnational and maritime security issues, including crime, trafficking in persons, nuclear nonproliferation, disaster response and preparedness,” and she announced that the U.S. is “doubling down” in two particular security areas – maritime awareness and unexploded World War II ordnance.
Maritime awareness is essential to protecting fisheries and other ocean resources. Under our Shiprider programs, U.S. Coast Guard ships and aircraft host Pacific island law enforcement officers, enabling them to patrol from our ships. As an example of what such partnerships can produce, just since 2009 we have facilitated the collection by Kiribati of more than US$ 4 million in fines for illegal fishing in its waters. The Secretary announced significant expansion of our Shiprider partnerships including utilizing U.S. Navy ships along with our Coast Guard.
The Secretary then discussed the human and environmental dangers posed by unexploded bombs and shells from World War II. She acknowledged that no one really knows the full extent of the problem, but that it had to be addressed aggressively. She announced that the U.S. Government would add an additional US$ 3.5 million to the millions already committed in recent years to help identify, remove, and destroy unexploded ordnance in the islands.
Amb. Frankie Reed introduces the Secretary at our Dialogue on Gender Equality.
We also convened at Tamarind House a group of women leaders from the member nations of the PIF including my good friend Adi Fafuna’i, about whom I wrote just a few weeks ago. Dubbed the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality
and led by another good friend of mine, Ambassador Frankie Reed, the gathering discussed at length the status of women in island societies as well as ways to empower women and girls socially, politically, and economically.
The Secretary joined the discussion after the peace and security event concluded. She noted the challenges faced by women in the Pacific — for example, four of only seven all-male legislatures left on Earth are in the region — and then reviewed the work of the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative which she launched in 2010 in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the World Bank.
Building on the Empowerment Initiative, the Secretary announced the formation of a partnership of governments and organizations to support leadership training for women – especially those in Pacific university institutions and organizations - to be called the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. The East-West Center in Hawaii will coordinate regional education institutions and private partners to greatly expand leadership training, academic scholarships, and other educational opportunities for women in the network, thus creating new opportunities for Pacific women to assume prominent roles in public service and private enterprise.
Posing with delegates who participated in our Dialogue on Gender Equality.
No matter how busy the schedule when she travels, Secretary Clinton always insists on meeting with the State Department personnel involved in the event or trip to thank them for their service. Thus, I assembled the officers and staff in country from Embassy Wellington, Consulate General Auckland, Embassy Apia, and several other American Missions as well. The Secretary spoke about the importance of the work of the Department, posed for photos, and then walked across the beach to our next event.
Hosted by Cook Islands Prime Minister Puna, the final official engagement of the day focused on sustainable development and ocean conservation. The Prime Minister discussed the Cooks’ thriving black pearl industry and laid out his vision for a Pacific Oceanscape of marine reserves, responsible stewardship of marine resources, and economic development compatible with environmental protection.
Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event.
In her responsive remarks
, the Secretary thanked the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality, commended him on his excellent leadership of the Forum, and acknowledged his inspirational commitment to conservation.
She announced two new programs through USAID – one to work with coastal communities to increase their indigenous capacity to adapt to climate change, and the other to help develop the region’s renewable energy resources by providing training and education for technicians and engineers to install, maintain, and repair solar energy equipment.
With respect to other conservation issues, the Secretary talked about American efforts to persuade the international community to declare Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the last great marine wildernesses left on Earth, as a marine protected area. It’s a difficult struggle, but the right thing to do.
She also talked about new cooperative programs with Kiribati to protect marine ecosystems, and explained how the State Department’s Pacific islands diaspora project was working to offer entrepreneurs access to capital and technical assistance to advance sustainable, environmentally sensitive economic development in their countries of origin or heritage in the region.
After the formal remarks concluded, the Prime Minister and Secretary mingled with the hundred or so Cook Island business and civic leaders present, and continued their discussion of the Cooks’ pearl and tourism industries. It was a glorious beach setting under clear blue skies, and no one seemed anxious to leave despite the setting of the sun.
In all, over the course of the day Secretary Clinton launched a large number of new initiatives of mutual benefit to the island nations and the United States on issues of regional security, sustainable development, marine protection, climate change, gender equality, education, and economic partnership. Oriented toward capacity building, people-to-people engagement, and entrepreneurial self-reliance, the initiatives provide a recipe for empowerment, not dependency.
The Secretary takes a stroll in town after PIF meetings ended.
In addition to the specific projects discussed above, I thought I’d share a small sample of the other U.S. initiatives and commitments discussed during the PIF. They aren’t things that you’d notice while walking down the street, and they certainly aren’t sexy or salacious enought to be reported in the papers, but they are transformative in their cumulative impact in the region. And they represent just part of the direct American commitment to the islands which totals approximately US$ 350 million per year. Again, just a quick sampling from meetings in which I participated:
Environmental Stewardship: The United States is committed to working with the Pacific islands to protect the unique marine resources of the Pacific and will explore with Kiribati areas of cooperation on the protection, preservation, and conservation management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which together account for 244,514 square miles of protected marine areas).
Climate Change: Recognizing that climate change is one of the most pressing concerns for the peoples of the Pacific, the United States is working to build capacity in the region to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. In addition to the US$ 25 million Coastal Community Adaption Program already described, the United States is also establishing Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), a US$ 1 million program aimed at generating and sustaining renewable energy investments.
Assistant Secretary of State for Int’l Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post-Forum Dialogue.
Pacific Partnership: Next year, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Partnership exercise will return to the Pacific, including Samoa. Pacific Partnership deployments collectively have provided medical, dental, and educational services to 250,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.
Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to Combat Environmental Crimes: The State Department will continue to help link the countries in the region to increase capacity building for anti-corruption, law enforcement, and rule of law communities. The State Department and the Department of Justice are supporting a new prosecutor-led Natural Resource Crimes Task Force in Indonesia that could serve as a model for Pacific nations on improving prosecution of natural resource crimes.
Developing Economic Linkages: In recognition of the cultural and economic ties between the United States and Pacific islands, the Department of State is partnering with the PIF Secretariat’s Pacific Islands Trade & Invest to launch the Pacific Islands IdEA Marketplace (PIIM).
PIIM is being implemented within the context of the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), an innovative program that has successfully linked diasporas to local populations in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. PIIM collaborators will develop a competition that seeks out innovative ideas to promote economic development and reduce the vulnerability of populations to natural disaster. Winners will be provided with technical assistance for developing their business plans and access to project financing and entrepreneurial networks.
Economic Growth and Prosperity: Ex-Im Bank is active in the region and seeks to provide financing for the procurement of U.S. equipment and services in most PIF countries. Over the past three years Ex-Im has supported financing in the amount of approximately US$ 7 billion dollars for projects in the Pacific including new liquid natural gas project developments in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
More Economic Growth and Prosperity: Since 1980, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has invested more than US$ 341 million dollars in the Pacific region, supporting investment and development in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Micronesia. OPIC currently has more than US$ 45 million in investments and insurance in the Pacific Islands region, and is actively looking to support viable projects in the region.
The Cook Islands offers beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment.
: The recently opened USAID office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is already managing a diverse portfolio of development projects in the South Pacific region.
Constitutional Development and Democracy: For example, this year USAID has provided nearly US$ 2 million to support democratic institutions in Fiji as well as free and fair elections in Papua New Guinea.
Regional Project Support: The Regional Environmental Office of U.S. Embassy Suva provides between US$ 75,000 and US$ 125,000 per year in numerous small grants for local projects throughout the region tackling both environmental and health issues.
PIF Youth Conference: This will be a conference sponsored by Embassy Wellington for youth leaders from each of the 16 member countries of the PIF to discuss key political, economic, environmental, and social issues in the region and to create a Pacific youth leaders network that will continue to communicate following the conference.
Near the center of Rarotonga island, on the Cross Island Track.
American Youth Leadership Program with Samoa: 20 American participants will travel to Samoa for a four-week exchange in December 2013 to study food security and nutrition alongside twenty Samoan teens.
Adopt the Airport Project: This project plans to transform unused land beside the Majuro Airport in the Marshall Islands into the atoll’s largest eco-friendly outdoor exercise facility.
Pacific Islands Sports Visitor Program: Focused on hearing-impaired track and field athletes, this program planned for early 2013 will reinforce awareness, locally and regionally, about disability inclusion especially for youth.
American Samoa: Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa also had a busy week of meetings, including finalizing and signing an MoU with the Cook Islands to work cooperatively on a South Pacific Albacore management regime, the monitoring of Cook Island flagged vessels using the port of Pago Pago, the exchange of fisheries related information and research, and personnel exchange visits.
Governor Togiola Tulafono (seated, right) signs an MoU with Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources Bishop.
Strengthening Democracy to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Public Health: This project aims to expand on a newly published book, Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in Palau, by Southern Illinois University and funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a television and print campaign to raise awareness and foster discussion about the impacts of climate change on public health.
Economic Innovation Fund / Transition from Substance Living to Market Economy: This program will work in conjunction with the Federated States of Micronesia’s current program designed to improve income for rural communities and increase household nutrition standards.
Leadership Development: The East-West Center will partner with other regional donors on a US$ 3 million program to provide leadership development and skills training for 125 young Pacific islanders.
The Secretary greets people at the market in Avarua.
Yes, that’s a blizzard of work and a lot of official meetings. But there was also time for direct engagement with the people of the Cook Islands. Secretary Clinton enjoyed a couple hours talking with shoppers in local markets, walking along the beach, and dining in local eateries. “Auntie Hillary” was the talk of the town, and signs welcoming her or offering special deals (e.g., “Free Ice Cream for Anyone Named Hillary Clinton”) were evident across the island.
Unfortunately, the Secretary’s visit was brief and soon over. The PIF was just the first stop on a long trip that would take her onward to Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Timor Leste, China, Russia, and other locations on a tight schedule. So, shortly after being welcomed, she was back at the airport being farewelled by Prime Minister Puna, other Cook Island officials, Dr. McWaine, and me.
Bidding the Secretary farewell with Prime Minister Puna and Mrs. Akaiti Puna.
I’ll leave you with the closing words from one of the Secretary’s public statements in the Cooks which nicely summarize the tone and orientation of American engagement in the Pacific:
“The United States is proud to support our many partnerships and our longstanding friendships in the region. Seventy years ago our countries stood together to fight for security and peace in the Pacific. At the end of that terrible world war, who could have predicted where we would be in 70 years?
“The United States did not leave the Pacific after that, instead we focused on making sure that the region continued to be safe and secure so that you could develop, you could pursue commerce, you could raise your children in peace, you could become more prosperous. We’re going to work together to ensure that all the people of the Pacific islands, in the 21st Century, have the chance to fulfill their own God-given potential. That is the hope that the United States brings to our partnerships and our friendships.
“We have put very real initiatives behind these hopes and these commitments, and we will be with you over the years and decades, and I would predict over centuries to come, as we see these islands continue to prosper, to go from strength to strength.”