“I am a Pacific Islander too,” President says
HONOLULU (Nov. 18, 2011) -- Heads of State and special envoys from eleven Pacific island nations met with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and other top U.S. and international officials in a special series of meetings organized by the East-West Center in parallel with the recently completed APEC leaders’ week in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga were represented. The Honorable Peter O’Neil, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, was selected as the delegation’s Chairman, with Niue’s Premier, Hon. Toke Talagi, serving as Vice Chairman.
The island leaders and envoys held a brief meeting with Obama, at which he remarked that he too is a Pacific islander, having been born and raised in Hawai‘i. The leaders discussed climate change issues, already a pressing threat for many low-lying island states.
At an earlier, more extensive ‘whole of government’ meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Daniel Inouye, Pacific forces Commander Adm. Robert Willard and a ‘who’s who’ of federal agency officials, discussions focused on such issues as fisheries and natural resource management in the region, climate-change threats and access to climate adaptation funding, disaster management, and the region’s growing health crisis from non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.
The delegation also attended speeches by Obama, Clinton, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Their meeting with Sang at the East-West Center marked a historic first time that a Vietnamese head of state had met with Pacific island leaders. In addition, the delegation attended the APEC CEO Summit and met with top executives of such companies as Visa and Johnson & Johnson.
At a special regional security briefing with top officers at Pacific Fleet led by Admiral Patrick Walsh, topics included disaster assistance, terrorism, piracy, and protection of exclusive maritime economic zones. The security briefing was followed by a private visit to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
In addition, the leaders and envoys attended several receptions with leaders of the APEC economies and top U.S. and Hawai‘i officials, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle.
In presentations and discussions with scholars and experts at the East-West Center, the delegation explored such issues such as possible undersea mining of rare earth discoveries in the Pacific, climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness, China’s expanding activities in Oceania, and regional health threats.
In addition, the delegates also spoke at length with master navigator Nainoa Thompson and other practitioners of traditional canoe voyaging from the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
The special meeting of meeting of sovereign pacific island states was organized by the East-West Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program, which also serves as the secretariat for the broader Pacific Island Conference of Leaders.