Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and let me begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be here in the beautiful Cook Islands. I am honored to be the first Secretary of State of the United States to participate in the Pacific Islands Forum-Post Forum dialogue. And on behalf of my delegation and our government, we express deep appreciation to you.
And I wish to thank Secretary General Slade and his team for the excellent preparation, all the leaders and delegations and representatives from the Forum partner countries. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of you at our annual roundtable at the United States General Assembly, and last year at the Pacific Island countries leaders meeting with President Obama in Hawaii, America’s own bridge to the Pacific.
It is fair to say that for the past three-and-a-half years, the Obama Administration has made a major push to increase our engagement across the Asia Pacific. This is a vast and dynamic region, a key driver of global economic and politics, and the United States has a historical presence in this region. That’s why I have said that the 21st century will be America’s Pacific century, with an emphasis on Pacific. The Pacific half of Asia Pacific doesn’t always get as much attention as it should, but the United States knows that this region is strategically and economically vital and becoming more so.
We too, of course, are a Pacific nation. With that long history that many of you know so well, 70 years ago Americans made extraordinary sacrifices on many of the islands represented here. And we have since then underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely. We have consistently protected the Pacific sea-lanes through which a great deal of the world’s commerce passes. And now we look to the Pacific nations in a spirit of partnership for your leadership on some of the most urgent and complex issues of our times such as climate change. Our countries are bound by shared interest, and more importantly, shared values, a shared history, and shared goals for our future. So the United States is already invested in the Pacific. Indeed, we are increasing our investments and we will be here with you for the long haul.
We also know that how we work with you here in the Pacific is a very strong message to the people of the Pacific and even beyond. And I take that very seriously. Here in the Pacific, and indeed across the world, the United States seeks a model of partnership rooted in our common values, but which delivers practical benefits and helps you create stronger economies and societies. And we’re pursuing this American model of partnership, and we want our work here in the Pacific Islands to exemplify these standards.
Currently, the United States spends $330 million every year supporting the nations and people of the Pacific Islands. Additionally, our Export-Import bank is active in the region, providing $3 billion for investments in Papua New Guinea, helping in the last few years to finance U.S. trade with Tonga, Tuvalu, Fiji, and Micronesia. Last October, in response to your request, we opened a USAID office in Papua New Guinea to strengthen our development partnerships in the region.
Today, I’m pleased to announce our plans for new programs totally more than $32 million, which are part of the Asia Pacific’s strategic engagement initiative I launched in July. These new programs will address the priorities that you have identified. One of these is sustainable economic development that protects biodiversity. When I was in Port Moresby in 2010, I visited a mangrove restoration project and pledged U.S. support for protecting this region’s magnificent natural resources.
Later today, I will join Prime Minister Puna at an event dedicate to ocean conservation. And I will discuss there our new cooperation with Kiribati to protect marine ecosystems, our work with New Zealand and other nations to establish a marine protected area in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, and two new USAID programs. One will help coastal communities increase their capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. The other will help develop this region’s renewable energy resources. And we are also committed to working with our Pacific partners to renew the Tuna Treaty, to ensure sustainability and a fair, transparent return for all our partners.
Throughout the region we seek to advance a sound economic agenda that includes more free trade and increased investment in energy. And we strongly support good governance because sustainable growth and capable leadership go hand in hand with the respect for the rule of law and human rights.
Another priority we share is security. All of us have an interest in maintaining peace and security in the Pacific. Hundreds of U.S. vessels from our Navy and Coast Guard, as well as our fishing vessels, sail these waters. We know how important the ocean and the resources are to your economic development, food security, and traditional culture. So we have worked to be a strong partner in fighting illegal and unregulated fishing and other crimes that take place at sea like human trafficking.
The U.S. Coast Guard already has security partnerships with nine Pacific island nations, and we are working to expand them. I will discuss this at an event later today with both our Coast Guard Admiral and the commander of the Pacific Command. And we’ll talk about increased efforts to clean up unexploded ordnance in the region to protect people’s lives and security.
A third priority of ours is supporting the women of the Pacific. And with that, I want to applaud Australia and Prime Minister Gillard for their unprecedented historic commitment. Now you would expect me, I’m sure, to say that we need to do more on behalf of women everywhere, and I will say that, but I say it not just because I believe it and know how important it is as a moral and human priority, but because I know that this region, long term progress depends on cultivating the skills and contributions of all people, men and women.
On my trip to the region two years ago, I announced the creation of the Pacific women’s empowerment initiative, and later today I will launch the next phase of that initiative, the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. That will be a collaborative venture with both Australia and New Zealand to identify rising women leaders across the region and connect them with networks of support. Investments like these in the economy and security and the people of the region reflect the depth of our commitment. We greatly value our relationships and we want our partnership to continue to strengthen and multiply.
And let me add that we welcome the opportunity to work with your development partners – Japan, the European Union, China, other development partners who are here from the UK to Canada who we just heard from. We all have important contributions and stakes in their region’s success, to advance your security, your opportunity, and your prosperity. I think, after all, the Pacific is big enough for all of us. And what we want to do is have a 21st agenda that keeps faith with the people of this region and your stewardship of the resources of this vast ocean we share.
So yes, the American people are proud of our ties, the hard fought battles of the Pacific theater 70 years ago, the natural disasters we have responded to together, the economic and educational exchanges we’ve shared, the bonds of family and friendship that connect us. So again, thank you for welcoming me here, and I look forward to many more years of friendship and partnership between the United States and the nations and peoples of the Pacific. Thank you, Prime Minister.