Good morning. I’m honored to be with you today, and to join all of you in opening the 2013 U.S.-New Zealand Pacific Partnership Forum.
I want to express my deep appreciation to Bill Maroni for his extraordinary leadership of the United States-New Zealand Council and the tremendous contribution the Council has made to advancing political, cultural, and economic ties between our governments and between our people.
I also want to thank Ambassadors Moore and Heubner. We are fortunate to have such exceptionally skilled diplomats representing our two countries during this important moment in our relationship. And I am truly honored to share the stage this morning with Minister of Foreign Affairs McCully, and with Bob Zoellick, with whom I first served in government nearly a quarter-century ago, under Secretary of State Baker, and for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration.
All of us remember today the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch two years ago, on the final afternoon of the Pacific Partnership Forum. We remember that darkest of days – the devastation, the scores injured, and the hundreds of people who lost their lives. We also remember the incredible resilience of the people of New Zealand in the face of one of the country’s worst natural disasters. And we remember how the world came together to help you respond and recover.
The government of New Zealand advised U.S. soldiers stationed in the country during the Second World War that “New Zealand is a small country, but we like to think our hearts are reasonably big.” You demonstrated that classic Kiwi warmth and hospitality to the American delegation in Christchurch two years ago and we remain forever grateful.
Now some may ask why the United States is so invested in strengthening its relationship with New Zealand during a time of global economic crisis, a Middle East in tumult, looming nuclear dangers, accelerating climate change, and international terrorism.
The simple answer is that there is no more dynamic and consequential part of the world today -- and in the decades ahead -- for America’s interests, and for the shape of the global system, than the Asia-Pacific. As Secretary Kerry emphasized in Tokyo last month, as a Pacific nation in the midst of a Pacific century, the United States will continue to build on our active and enduring presence in Asia.
We are pursuing our engagement along three tracks – broadening and deepening our bilateral cooperation with treaty allies, enhancing partnerships with new and emerging players, and playing a more active role in the development of regional multilateral institutions.
Our relationship with New Zealand and the work we do together is a critical element of our rebalance to the region. Since 2006, the Pacific Partnership Forum has been a vital source of ideas and energy behind the development of our bilateral relationship. And thanks to the people in this room, the efforts of this Council, and the dedication and focus of our governments, the relationship between our countries has leapt forward to a place few would have imagined only a decade ago.
This week, the Department of State hosts the third U.S.-New Zealand Strategic Dialogue. The wide range of issues on the agenda is a product of our long and rich history of cooperation, our shared values, and our many overlapping interests.
We work together to maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific and around the world. In Afghanistan, New Zealand has made enormous contributions and sacrifices. And as the Afghans stand up, we are pleased that New Zealand will join us in making sure they do not stand alone.
From Timor Leste to the Sinai and the Solomon Islands, New Zealand plays a significant role in peacekeeping operations. And we continue to benefit from the insights and contributions on a range of 21st century transnational threats.
We work together to boost the region’s economic dynamism and support growth-oriented, job-creating trade and investment policies. New Zealand has been a driving force behind the centerpiece of this effort – the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We thank New Zealand for its steady leadership on this and other trade issues. Your experience and track record on trade mean your voice carries weight and we appreciate your commitment to pushing for an agreement. President Obama has made it very clear that he expects to conclude negotiations this year.
We work together to build an institutional architecture that will make the most of our interdependence. Strengthening ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit, APEC, and the Pacific Islands Forum is crucial to ensuring that the Asia-Pacific has cooperative mechanisms in place to address the challenges facing the region – from maritime security to nonproliferation and humanitarian assistance and disaster response. As we look to increase our own role and involvement with these institutions, we look to our partners – and count on New Zealand especially – to play a more active role in shaping and advancing the policy agenda of these institutions.
We work together on joint endeavors to protect the environment and promote clean and sustainable energy. One example is our joint proposal to establish the world’s largest Marine Protected Area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Together we hope to secure the necessary regional support for this proposal to be approved this July.
Finally, we work together to deepen the ties between our people. One-hundred and seventy-five years after the United States was the first country to open a consulate in New Zealand, and more than seven decades after we fought together during the Second World War, the bonds between our peoples and cultures are stronger than ever.
This year we celebrate the 65th anniversary of our Fulbright relationship with New Zealand. The alumni of Fulbright New Zealand, one of the world’s oldest continuous programs, have gone on to remarkable careers in politics, law, business, and the arts. Leading minds from American and New Zealand universities are working closely together in important areas of scientific research – including geothermal energy, food innovation, and electric smart grid technologies. And there are 1,200 New Zealand students currently studying in the U.S. and more than 3,000 American students studying in New Zealand – that is nearly eight American students per golf course!
The theme for this year’s Forum – “defining what’s next” – should inspire all of us to expand the depth and breadth of our relationship in the coming years. This will certainly be our goal at this week’s Strategic Dialogue. We both have a great deal to gain though expanded partnership – and our partnership benefits the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Like all of you, I am confident that our shared values and interests, our common vision for a prosperous, stable, and secure Asia-Pacific, and the growing partnership we have built between our governments and our peoples, will help us make the most of the opportunities in the Pacific Century unfolding before us.
Thank you, and I wish you a very successful Forum.