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  • Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink provides a readout of the second Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP), which includes participation by Ministers and representatives of Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) members, Pacific Islands, and observers. The PBP is an initiative announced in June 2022 that builds on members’ longstanding commitment to the Pacific region and reaffirms support for prosperity, resilience, and security in the region. 


MODERATOR:  Hello, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s virtual briefing with Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  My name is Daphne Stavropoulos, and I’ll be the moderator.  

Before we get started with the briefing, let’s go over a few logistics.  This briefing is on the record.  It will be transcribed and the transcript will be posted on our website upon its completion.  Please rename your profile with your full name and outlet.  I will not be able to call on journalists that I cannot identify.  And let’s begin.  

The assistant secretary will provide a readout of the second Partners in the Blue Pacific ministerial.  The founding members in the Blue Pacific – Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States – launched the initiative in June 2022.  Canada, Germany, and the Republic of Korea have also joined as partners.   

After his opening remarks I will return and moderate the Q&A session.  Please note that we are short on time today.  The assistant secretary can only take a few questions.  In addition, he’s  here to discuss the Partners in the Blue Pacific Ministerial.  Let’s keep the conversation limited to the scope of the briefing.  

And with that, it’s a pleasure to turn the floor over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.  Welcome and thank you.  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Daphne, thank you so much, and good evening, everyone, to all of our friends in the media.  I’m so grateful to you for taking time on a Friday night to discuss with me the second Partners in the Blue Pacific Ministerial, which we’ve just completed here in New York.  I’m really delighted to be able to spend time with you and to talk about what we thought was a really significant and I thought constructive and productive engagement in, again, the second ministerial of the Partners in the Blue Pacific.  

It was chaired by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  We, of course, had many representatives from the Pacific Island countries, representatives from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community, representatives of the Partners in the Blue Pacific, and also the observer countries from the Partners in the Blue Pacific.  And one of the reasons why I’m so excited to talk about this initiative is it really represents I think first and foremost commitment on the part of the United States to step up our game considerably across a range of initiatives and sectors in the blue – in the Pacific.  But perhaps most importantly, I think Partners in the Blue Pacific is a recognition that we cannot and should not do this alone, that we are more effective when we work together with likeminded partners who are committed to constructive and transparent cooperation and consultation with all of our friends across the Pacific islands.  

Again, just to review, I’m sure you’re all familiar that the Partners in the Blue Pacific is an inclusive, informal coordination initiative among the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and the Republic of Korea.  And again, this is a constructive, inclusive, and open organization that we’re absolutely committed to working in partnership with Pacific Island partners on shared interests.  

I think that our countries in the Partners in the Blue Pacific have long been committed development partners to our Pacific Island friends, and together, we have provided more than $2 billion in development assistance annually.  And together, we’re also bringing new energy and resources to the Pacific, working again with our partners across the Pacific Islands on our shared goal of meeting Pacific priorities and supporting Pacific institutions.  And together, we are confident we can have a much greater impact than we could alone.  

That’s why last year we launched Partners in the Blue Pacific, so that we could advance more effective and efficient cooperation and engagement with our Pacific partners; so that we could strengthen Pacific regionalism, including through the Pacific Islands Forum; and so that we could facilitate and encourage other partners and institutions around the world to engage and consult with the Pacific. 

These stakeholders in the Partners in the Blue Pacific share the Pacific’s values, and we also seek to benefit Pacific peoples.  The central tenet of the Partners in the Blue Pacific is that we will be guided by the Pacific islands.  We will undertake regular consultation with Pacific partners, including, again, through this second foreign ministers meeting here in New York.  

Tonight’s meeting was a further opportunity to listen, to listen carefully to our friends in the Pacific Islands and to hear their valuable feedback as we continue to refine the work of the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative.  And I’m really excited to say that drawing from our consultations earlier this year as well as from the Pacific Island Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, we have been working on a series of important initiatives in the Partners in the Blue Pacific.  And let me just walk you through a few of the more significant ones that were discussed in today’s meeting.  

First, at last year’s Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction meeting in Nadi, Fiji, the Pacific ministers called for urgent action to improve regional resilience in the face of disaster risk and climate change.  Reflecting the priority placed on disaster preparedness in the Nadi Declaration and the 2050 PBP Strategy, the Partners in the Blue Pacific, together with France, have committed $55 million U.S. to the Pacific Humanitarian Warehousing Program, a Pacific-led multi-donor investment that will expand pre-positioned humanitarian and emergency supplies in 14 Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.  These strategic reserves will enhance the Pacific’s crisis response in the critical first 48 hours and will help them be better prepared for, and more resilient to, disasters. 

Second, we’re also collaborating with Pacific Islands on cyber security, a key priority under both the 2050 strategy and the Boe Declaration.  Over the past year, the Partners in the Blue Pacific has been working with Pacific Island partners to organize what we call the P4C – the Pacific Cyber Capacity Building and Coordination Conference.  The P4C will bring together Pacific partner and stakeholders to explore the region’s needs and opportunities in cyberspace now and in the future, and the Partners in the Blue Pacific and our Pacific Islands themselves will pool resources and share best practices to address and counter cyber threats and cyber crime and build cyber resilience together. 

Third, protecting the Blue Pacific Continent and its ocean resources is a critical priority in the 2050 strategy.  However, the climate crisis and its impact, such as ocean warming, threaten these critical ocean resources, and therefore, to support sustainable management of marine ecosystems, including the region’s tuna fisheries, our Partners in the Blue Pacific have committed to provide at least $22 million U.S. to support a Pacific-owned ocean and fisheries research vessel.  And once fully funded, this research vessel will provide critical research for addressing climate change impacts on Pacific oceans and fisheries. 

And fourth and finally, I think everyone knows that fisheries are absolutely critical to this region, and in fact, fisheries provide more than $500 million annually in direct income to Pacific countries and territories, but they are increasingly under threat by IUU fishing.  Partners in the Blue Pacific therefore are committed to working with Pacific countries, the Forum Fisheries Agency, and other regional organization partners to better coordinate combating IUU fishing and maritime domain awareness cooperation, building on the outcomes from the January workshop at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. 

So therefore, I hope it’s clear I think just how important and active the Partners in the Blue Pacific have been over the past year.  This initiative will remain an open and inclusive one, and we will welcome further cooperation from additional partners who share our common values of transparency, democracy, accountability, and support for sovereignty, as well as stronger Pacific regionalism and true partnership and collaboration with friends across the Pacific. 

So thank you so much for spending time with us this evening.  Again, we had, I thought, an incredibly productive and fruitful conversation today, and I’d be happy to spend a few minutes answering a few questions.  Daphne, back over to you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Thanks for those remarks.  We’ll open our Q&A session.  To ask a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you, and when called on, unmute yourself and state your full name and your outlet.  And you can also submit a question in the chat feature at the bottom of your screen and I will read it out loud for you. 

The first question goes to Mr. Kim.  Mr. Kim, please introduce yourself. 

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  My name is Dong Hyung from Yonhap News Agency.  My question is:  Going forward, does the U.S. envision this initiative developing into some kind of security arrangement with the Pacific Island nations?  And when you talk to the Pacific Island nations, in addition to cyber security, which you mentioned, is greater security cooperation – that is something they would like? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you very much for your question.  Here’s what I would say:  The simple answer to your question, I think, is no.  The Partners in the Blue Pacific – again, we’ve talked about how it’s an open and inclusive initiative.  It’s focused squarely on some of the key issues and I think most urgent issues that friends across the Pacific face and that they themselves have identified, including in the Pacific Islands Forum – Pacific Island Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.   

So no, this is not a security organization.  We’re focused on, I think, the urgent needs that partners in the Pacific have outlined.  Some of them I’ve addressed here – climate, fishing, development, natural disaster response, people-to-people ties, educational and human resources development.  These are the kinds of initiatives that we have focused on.  These are the needs that the Pacific Island countries themselves have identified, and I think, as I hopefully outlined clearly in my opening remarks, that’s where the Partners in the Blue Pacific have focused their efforts over the past year, and that’s what we’ll continue to do going forward.  Thanks very much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I will go ahead and read a question that was submitted in advance by Kenichi Harada.  He is asking, “In Vanuatu, Mr. Kilman recently took the office of prime minister, who is widely described as being more open to Chinese cooperation than his predecessor.  How would the Biden administration forge its relationship with the new prime minister?  Mr. Kilman also has said that he will revisit the Australia security pact, which is as yet to be a ratified agreement.  How do you see the prime minister’s comments on the security pact with Australia?  Thank you.” 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Well, thank you very much for the question.  Look, let me just respond, if I can, as directly as possible to the first question related to China.  And again, it’s a question that we get, I think, all across the region and all across the world.  And let me just underscore here the United States of America is not in the business of asking our partners to choose.  We are in the business of making sure that countries have the ability to make their own choices, their own sovereign choices, free from coercion.  We’re committed to, again, as I’ve tried to outline here, to meeting our partners where they live.   

And what that means in the Pacific is consulting with our partners, listening to what their needs are, looking at the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent that the PIF has already issued, and then figuring out how can we together – the United States and other key partners – work with our Pacific friends to address those common challenges.  And we are confident that if we focus on addressing these countries’ needs and ensuring the livelihood and the welfare of the peoples in the Pacific, then we will all benefit.  But again, we’re not in the business of asking countries to choose.  

And I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it’s really not appropriate for a U.S. Government official to be commenting on any security agreement between another country – between two other countries.  So I’ll leave – I’ll let you refer those questions to the parties involved.  Thanks very much.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We have a question that’s come in through the chat.  The question is from Mitch McCann of New Zealand.  He’s having microphone issues and asked me to ask on his behalf.  It says:  “Assistant Secretary, could you detail how you view New Zealand’s role in the PBP given New Zealand is geographically the closest PBP member and still has a relationship with China?”  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Well, I really appreciate the question from our friend in New Zealand.  And maybe I’ll say to my Kiwi friend, I’ll refer you to my remarks that I made in Auckland just a few weeks back, a couple of months back I guess, in which I said this:  I said thank God that America has partners like New Zealand.  New Zealand, of course, has great depth and knowledge of the Pacific Islands, is very much an integral part of the Pacific Island family.  And we’ve benefited so much, I think, from New Zealand’s knowledge and resources and capabilities, and to me, our partnership with New Zealand highlights why something like the Partners in the Blue Pacific is so effective.   

All of us, I think, all eight countries in the Partners in the Blue Pacific, we bring different backgrounds, we bring different resources, different attributes, different capabilities.  But together it’s quite extraordinary what we can do.  And I can just say from personal experience – and again, I’ll refer you to my remarks in Auckland at the conference there a few weeks back – I’ve just benefited so many times from the wisdom and guidance and advice of friends in New Zealand, just as we have from other partners who are also members of the Partners in the Blue Pacific.  And I’m confident that we’ll continue to do so. 

And maybe just one final comment.  Of course Secretary Blinken was honored to be in New Zealand just a few weeks ago as well – was hosted by his good friend and counterpart, the foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta.  And again, we had really productive and in-depth conversations that I think shows more than ever, I think, the United States and New Zealand are united in our shared values and interests, and united in the kind of free and open region and world in which we want to live.   

So we’re excited about our partnership with New Zealand.  I think it’s stronger than ever.  Look forward to continuing our work together in the years ahead.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  I think we have time for one more question. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  That’d be great.  Please, let’s do one last one.  Make this the hardest one possible, please.   

MODERATOR:  (Laughter.)  So if you have a question, please raise your virtual hand or submit it via the chat feature.   

Well, it’s been a busy week for everyone, and I want to be respectful of everyone’s time and getting to the filing room for those who have joined us.  So I think that concludes today’s briefing.  Today was – the briefing was on the record, and I will share the transcript with everyone as well as post it on our website later this evening.  And so with that, thank you for joining us and good evening.  


U.S. Department of State

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