Remarks at Pacific Day Seminar
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Foreign Minister McCully, other members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, friends and colleagues, let me begin by thanking you for this chance to participate in the 2012 Pacific Day event. From its start nearly twenty years ago, this event has grown into an excellent forum for celebrating our shared history and heritage as Pacific nations.
On behalf of the United States, I welcome this chance to continue our strong ties to the many nations of the Pacific region. Over the past few months, President Obama – our first Pacific President – and Secretary Clinton have sought to reinforce the enduring American commitment to advance security, prosperity, and human dignity across the Pacific region. There should be no doubt that the United States is itself a Pacific nation. Starting in its earliest days, this Administration has prioritized U.S. relations with the Pacific, from the President’s personal commitment to strong engagement with the Asia-Pacific region to the Secretary’s decision to break precedent and make her first foreign trip to Asia. And U.S. engagement with the Pacific region only has grown over the past three years, as I’ll highlight in a moment.
But Foreign Minister McCully, your remarks were right on point in noting that this American commitment to the security, development, values, and economic growth of the Pacific is not new. The Obama Administration has embraced that commitment and strengthened it, but it did not begin in 2009. Since the nineteenth century, the United States has been a Pacific nation, and we are proud to share this heritage with so many countries who also share our commitment to strong democratic values, steady improvement of our common welfare, and a vision of a safe, secure, and peaceful world.
Nor will America’s commitment to the Pacific and the nations of the Pacific end anytime soon. Looking to the future, Secretary Clinton has referred to the 21st century as “America’s Pacific century.” We’ve recognized that just as the past decade has been spent responding to threats, the next decade must be spent pursuing opportunities, especially to our west. To that end, we have pledged continued robust U.S. outreach and partnership to the Pacific region. The United States is ready to engage with our Pacific partners on a host of shared opportunities and challenges.
Indeed, the Obama Administration has put the notion of global interconnectedness at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. We recognize that, more than ever before, the U.S. economy and our national security are intertwined with the rest of the world, especially the Asia-Pacific region. Frankly, there isn’t much that doesn’t cross borders anymore.
At their best, these transborder connections can be incredible forces for good. Look at the impact the free flow of information has had on the remarkable changes underway in North Africa and the Middle East, where decades of misrule has been thrown off by citizens demanding respect for their fundamental human rights.
Yet our keen global interconnectedness also means that our most pressing challenges no longer stop at borders. These days, our primary concern is no longer two nations fighting over a single line on a map. Instead, we are increasingly focused on complex transnational challenges that don’t respect borders. non-traditional and irregular threats to the international community. Border fights have been replaced by more complex challenges. Nuclear proliferation. Climate change. Attacks on freedom and human rights. Transnational crime. Manmade and natural disasters. Terrorism. Pandemic disease. Environmental degradation and even devastation.
So, even as global power has become more diffuse, so too are the challenges we face. And just as these challenges and threats are shared, we also recognize that the most effective solution is a shared response. For the United States, this reality only strengthens our long-term commitment to multilateral engagement, both across the United Nations and with a number of regional organizations.
So our nations have partnered closely on a number of important issues across the UN system. We have defended our shared values and commitment to universal human rights, by calling to account persistent violators like Iran, North Korea, and Syria. We have pushed for an end to the Syrian government’s wanton attacks on civilians, and demanded that Iran cease its nuclear program and support for terrorism.
But we also are collaborating in the fight against noncommunicable diseases, like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, which rapidly have become the preeminent health challenge in nations across the globe, killing more than 35 million people annually – 80 percent of whom live in developing countries. As you all know, Pacific nations have been hit especially hard. We welcomed the chance to work with you and others to support the UN General Assembly’s focus last year on NCDs, including a high-level event that raised the profile of the issue significantly. And the United States is supporting international efforts to turn that high-level political support into concrete global action, including by backing efforts by the World Health Organization to complete, by year’s end, a global monitoring framework on NCDs, including indicators and targets.
We also are working together with Pacific nations and other partners in the lead up to the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development.
But it is not only by working together across the UN system that the United States has sought to support our shared goals with our Pacific neighbors. Pacific and Asian regional institutions are important to the United States as well; they provide mechanisms for mustering collective action, and help improve global standards as well.
So in 2011, we sent our largest and highest-level delegation ever to Auckland to participate in the 40th anniversary of the Pacific Island Forum, led by our Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides. And we look forward to participating in the Pacific Island Forum Post Forum Dialogue in the Cook Islands later this year. Not only is the PIF a key platform for regional cooperation, it also provides an opportunity for us all to engage on issues of concern to the Pacific and the global community. We are pleased that the Forum has designated American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands as observers.
Other Pacific and Asian regional institutions are important to the United States as well. We just finished our year of hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, working to spur long-term economic growth that will help ensure all citizens of the Asia-Pacific region have strong economic opportunities. After hosting other APEC heads of state in Hawaii last year, President Obama went on to Indonesia, where he was the first American head of state to participate in the East Asia Summit. Additionally, it was during this Administration that the United States became the first non-member of ASEAN to open a dedicated mission to that organization, and accredit a resident ambassador.
In addition to these partnerships in the United Nations and regional bodies, the United States has provided steadfast bilateral support to a number of Pacific countries, as we work together to take on many of the transnational issues I mentioned earlier.
For example, on the critical challenge of climate change, the United States has provided tens of millions of dollars in assistance to explore viable mitigation and adaptation options. Our Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change program helps improve monitoring and forecasting services throughout the South Pacific; enhance food security for farmers in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu; promote healthy ecosystems in the Solomon Islands; and improve access to water in Vanuatu. And our Coral Triangle Initiative support program helps build capacity to sustain fisheries, and manage marine sanctuaries. We look forward to working with the Pacific region on the implementation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, and agree with those of you who favor a negotiated, rather than judicial, approach to undertaking appropriate climate change commitments.
We also provide tens of millions of dollars annually to enhance security for our Pacific partners against a range of transnational threats. To combat piracy, trafficking in persons, illegal fishing, and other formers of cross-border crime, the U.S. Coast Guard extends the reach of partner nation law enforcement officers. To date, we’ve worked with partners from the Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Micronesia, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu. And we’ve provided fourteen Pacific island countries with training and technical assistance to combat money laundering.
In closing, let me add simply that given the many shared interests, challenges, and solutions between our nations, I’m always pleased to represent the United States at meetings and gatherings with our Pacific partners. I will be part of the U.S. delegation to the PIF this year, where I look forward to continuing this conversation. Thank you.