24 May, 2012
Pacific Day keynote speech: New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC
Distinguished Guests, including Assistant Secretary of State Dr Esther Brimmer and, our moderator today, Mr Ernie Bower from the Center of Strategic and International Studies.
It gives me great pleasure to be here this afternoon on this important occasion.
Ties between the United States and the Pacific region go back as far as there has been a United States of America.
It seems appropriate that today we should acknowledge the role of the Pacific War in reinforcing and strengthening our relationship.
For it is almost 70 years to the day since the first American troops landed in the South Pacific as part of the long, hard island campaign against Japan in World War II.
On 12 June 1942 five American transport ships, a cruiser and a destroyer sailed into Auckland Harbour.
One of the advance guard gave the following piece of news to his compatriots as they set foot on New Zealand shores: “No Scotch, two per cent beer, but nice folks.”
Some things, thankfully, change with time. Other things, I hope, do not.
For the following two years, at any point in time, between 15 and 45 thousand American servicemen and women were stationed in New Zealand – a place described in their guide book as “deep in the heart of the South Pacific”.
Over the next three years the fates of the South Pacific and the United States of America were linked. More than two million American soldiers, including a future US President Kennedy, passed through Henderson Field in the Solomon Islands.
Battles were fought and won by servicemen from the United States, Australia and New Zealand and reinforced by soldiers from right across the Pacific.
What gave the encounter a special quality was that the American and New Zealand societies of the day were similar enough to communicate easily, but sufficiently different to find each other intriguing.
Both were former British colonies with a frontier past. Both believed in democracy, freedom and the protection of civil liberties. And both shared a Pacific coastline.
I am pleased to be able to tell you that over the coming weeks the American contribution to New Zealand’s World War II security will be the subject of special commemoration. For three weeks from 14 June 50 marines and a 50 person marine band will be in New Zealand on the invitation of our government for a series of commemorative events.
Today our friendship continues to grow.
It is a friendship based on a common set of interests and a common set of values.
It is a friendship demonstrated by the support we give each other when times are tough. I recall the immediate response and assistance from the United States Government following the Christchurch earthquake, and the outpouring of sympathy from so many Americans.
Eighteen months ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and I signed the Wellington Declaration, a document that commits the United States and New Zealand to a new strategic partnership.
Fundamental to this partnership is an enhanced political dialogue, and a key element of this dialogue is increasingly regular engagement on Pacific issues, as well as annual Pacific consultations.
Prime Minister Key and President Obama met here in Washington last year for a wide-ranging discussion.
They discussed our mutual interest in promoting a more effective trade regime among the Asia Pacific nations through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
With the experience of the Christchurch earthquake still fresh in mind, they discussed enhanced cooperation around disaster response.
And they discussed our security cooperation and New Zealand’s contribution in Afghanistan. New Zealand is, of course, not unique in the Pacific region in providing support to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Our troops are joined by soldiers from Australia and Tonga.
We recently welcomed to New Zealand US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. We identified ways to work together on border security, cyber-security, counter-terrorism and people trafficking – issues that are critical to New Zealand's and indeed the Pacific’s security.
New Zealand’s relationship with the United States is invigorated through our dialogue but is measured through our actions.
Through the Wellington Declaration we are translating our common interests and values into practical outcomes. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the Pacific.
Over the last eighteen months New Zealand and the United States have cooperated on a range of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities.
New Zealand contributed over 100 engineers and medical personnel to the US-led Pacific Partnership 2011.
Tokelau’s water shortages in late 2011 were alleviated through a fully integrated New Zealand and United States disaster response operation.
Our two countries have joined forces to fight illegal fishing in the Pacific through sub-regional and regional maritime surveillance activities.
Operation Kurukuru in late 2011 was the largest surveillance operation ever conducted in the Pacific region, involving the sighting of over 400 vessels, the boarding of 80, and the apprehension of 8.
We are working closely with one another to identify joint initiatives to address Non Communicable Diseases in the Pacific. We recently collaborated on a Pacific agri-business initiative, and will be co-funding a waste disposal initiative in Kiribati.
We welcome a noticeable increase in the level of engagement by the United States in the Pacific region.
This makes sense, as the global geopolitical and economic balance shifts to the Pacific region.
The United States has special relationships with its Pacific territories – American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas – and with the freely associated states of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
American military stationed in Guam and the 5th fleet in Hawaii provides a welcome security presence in the region.
And let’s not forget that the current US President was born on the Pacific Island of Hawaii, the 50th American state.
The State Department, the Department of Defence, and the Department of the Interior – these and other branches of the US Government have all worked hard to give greater attention to issues affecting the Pacific region.
USAID, for example, opened its Pacific Island Regional Office in Port Moresby last October, bringing its considerable expertise to the wider region, and is, I understand, already making a considerable impact.
New Zealand is delighted to see increasing levels of interaction between the United States and Pacific Island countries across a broad range of political, economic and developmental issues.
There was a 50-strong delegation from the United States – led by US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides – in attendance at the 40th Anniversary of the Auckland Forum last September.
One outcome of the Forum was that American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands were, for the first time, designated as observers.
Expanding the Forum in this way can only reinforce the ties of friendship, of Pacific diversity, and of collective responsibility to secure a prosperous future.
New Zealand is proud to be a Pacific nation.
Migration from the Pacific has shaped and defined our national identity.
Just as the Pacific is embedded in New Zealand culture and society, New Zealand in turn is committed to the future of the Pacific.
The region has a lot going for it. In particular it has young, vibrant people and diverse cultures.
And it has an array of natural assets:
vast fish and marine resources;
minerals and oil; and
renewable energy sources
I do not, though, wish to paint a picture of a Pacific postcard oasis. To be sure, there are many places in the region that are among the most beautiful in the world.
But there are great difficulties in using the physical resources of the Pacific in ways that ensure sustainability, protect the land and the sea, and return revenues to local people.
Climate change is a major threat to many Pacific island countries, particularly those with low-lying atolls.
Those seeking to develop export industries must overcome the tyranny of distance, lack of access to capital, and quarantine restrictions in other countries.
Tourism development is thwarted by lack of international and local transport, and by lack of investment in local infrastructure.
Human potential is challenged by a lack of educational opportunities.
A dependence on electricity generated by imported diesel has a crippling effect on Pacific economies, not to mention the climate change impact.
There are also security challenges. The Pacific is not immune to the attention of global criminal syndicates. The threats of the drugs trade, illegal fishing and human trafficking are all prevalent.
And of course there have at times been internal security challenges for several states including military coups in Fiji, riots in Tonga and ethnic unrest in Solomon Islands.
But having said that, I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of the Pacific either. It is positive that the region itself is finding solutions.
A key player in this respect is the regional body the Pacific Islands Forum, of which New Zealand is the current Chair.
Late last year as host of the Forum Leaders’ meeting, New Zealand had the opportunity to provide its view of the region, its challenges and its opportunities.
It was an optimistic glass half full picture of the region that was profiled in Auckland. One that highlighted the genuine assets the region holds in fisheries, agriculture and horticulture, and in tourism.
And there was a strong focus on the enablers that will unlock the potential in these sectors – improved regional fisheries management; efforts to overcome biosecurity and similar obstacles to agricultural exports; the availability of reasonably-priced renewable energy; better infrastructure; and higher education standards.
I do not have time to discuss all of these today, but I do want to comment in passing on two of them.
The Pacific is now the only healthy tuna fishery on earth, not yet seriously overfished.
For many of our poorest neighbours, their exclusive economic zone is their largest economic asset.
Kiribati is a good example, arguably the poorest of our neighbours but the owner of an EEZ of 3.55 million square kilometres.
The challenge is to ensure that a fair share of the value of that resource passes into the hands of its owners, both in cash and in jobs.
That is one of our priorities as Chair of the Forum this year.
Another big priority is renewable energy.
Judging by the number of lofty words spoken at climate change conferences in the past decade, you could be excused for imagining that the Pacific, endowed as it is with good sunshine, is positively riddled with solar power plants.
The reality is that little has been done to translate lofty words into action on the ground.
For this reason I have made it a priority for our year in the Forum Chair to get some runs on the board in relation to renewable energy.
In July I will be visiting Tonga for the opening of a 1.5 megawatt plant that will make a significant contribution towards the power requirements of the Tongan capital.
During the course of this calendar year we will move our small remote neighbour of Tokelau from 100 per cent dependence on fossil fuels to over 90 per cent dependence on renewable solar energy.
And we have a range of other renewable energy projects underway around the region.
This approach is, I hope, symbolic of the role that New Zealand can play within the region.
We are a small country.
Our development budget is not huge.
But well over half of that development budget is committed within our region.
And we try to be focused, committed, and to actually get things done.
That is what is required if we are going to tip the balance within our region. The gap between maximising our opportunities and succumbing to our challenges is not large.
But I remain a strong advocate for the positive view of the region and its future that was presented by New Zealand during last year’s Forum Leaders’ meeting.
Both development and diplomatic arms of the New Zealand Government are firmly focused on delivering that promise.