Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged a renewed U.S. commitment to the Pacific region and to long-standing partnerships with the people of Pacific island nations during her first visit to Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on August 31.
Clinton also announced a new contribution of more than $32 million for programs throughout the region that are targeted at expanding economic development while also protecting biodiversity. The United States spends approximately $330 million a year on development across the Asia-Pacific region.
The secretary attended the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post-Forum Dialogue meeting along with foreign ministers and leaders from across the Pacific on the first stop of an 11-day, six nation trip to the region. She will next travel to Jakarta, the seat of the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for meetings with Indonesian leaders at the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.
Clinton is also scheduled to visit China on September 4–5; Dili, Timor-Leste, on September 6; Brunei Darussalam, September 6–7; and conclude her trip in Vladivostok representing the United States at the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum September 8–9, which is being hosted by Russia. Clinton is expected to hold meetings with foreign ministers and world leaders on the sidelines of the regional forums.
“When we talk about our engagement in the Asia Pacific, we really are looking at a model of partnerships that reflect our shared values, delivers practical benefits, and helps create stronger economies and societies,” Clinton said in August 31 remarks at the Tamarind House in Rarotonga.
“Our goal is to help the island nations of the Pacific realize their own aspirations, reach your own goals. And therefore, we are working on everything from expanding economic opportunity to protecting the environment to fighting gender-based violence, and we particularly honor the sacrifice that many Pacific partners are making to bring peace and security to war-torn areas around the globe, including places like Afghanistan and Sudan.”
“We share a common interest in advancing peace, security, and prosperity in this vital region,” she added.
Clinton is the first secretary of state to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, and the first to visit the Cook Islands. The Pacific Islands Forum is a group of 16 independent, self-governing states: Australia; the Cook Islands; the Federated States of Micronesia; Fiji; Kiribati; Nauru; New Zealand; Niue; Palau; Papua New Guinea; Republic of Marshall Islands; Samoa; Solomon Islands; Tonga; Tuvalu; and Vanuatu. The forum was founded in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum, but in 2000 the name was changed to its present form.
Since 1989, the United States and 13 other dialogue partners have met in a Post-Forum Dialogue at the foreign minister level.
Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and Clinton also met on August 31 to discuss their long-standing partnerships with the Pacific island nations. The three foreign ministers said in a joint press statement released September 1 that they would work to promote economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security in the region.
In the statement, the three nations expressed interest in advancing regional development in the Pacific, and noted significant concern about the impact of climate change, which they said represents an urgent environmental, economic, development and security issue. The foreign ministers also cited the importance of dependable access to clean and affordable energy, which is essential to support sustainable economic development among the Pacific island nations. New Zealand hosts the 2013 Pacific Energy Conference, which will address these and other pressing energy concerns.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States also expressed the need to protect the region’s diverse fisheries. “They reiterated their support for successful negotiations to extend the South Pacific Tuna Treaty on terms that ensure long-term economic benefits to the Pacific region and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the region’s fish stocks,” the joint statement said.
And the ministers cited the importance of maritime surveillance cooperation and coordination, and the need to enhance the capacity of Pacific island nations. Clinton also told leaders at the dialogue meeting that the United States would not abandon its role in helping to protect maritime commerce in the region.
“Australia and New Zealand also welcomed the announcement by the United States of new efforts to fund training, assessment and clean-up of unexploded ordnance, a legacy of World War II, in several Pacific Island countries,” the statement said.
And Marles, McCully and Clinton also stressed the importance in their talks of prompting gender equality and the empowerment of women in the Pacific. They praised and endorsed the Pacific Leaders' Gender Equality Declaration issued by the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, as well as the Joint Statement on the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality that was issued by the dialogue members.