Civil society groups are questioning the independence of island leaders in the Pacific Islands Forum while Australia and New Zealand are at the table.
This comes after what the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs described some outcomes from last week's leaders summit in the Federated States of Micronesia as disappointing.
Its executive director Emele Duituturaga was in Pohnpei and she said the passion and enthusiasm Pacific leaders had for some issues were not reflected in the final communique.
"Well on particular issues like West Papua there is definitely a limitation. We know this because we were on the ground, we were talking to leaders there was a draft text that got watered down. So we do question the extent to which our leaders can be bold and courageous in the presence of our geo-political neighbours like Australia and New Zealand.”
The United States deeply values our relationship with the countries of the Pacific region, with which we share common history, values, and goals. The Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are close partners of the United States on many global issues, and their challenges are our priorities—tackling climate change, preserving our oceans, increasing the use of renewable energy, advancing sustainable and inclusive economic development, and improving health and education.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel R. Russel’s participation as head of the United States delegation at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue (PFD) on September 11 in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia demonstrates our commitment to the Pacific Islands region.
Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction
Before the United States joined the Paris Agreement on September 3, President Obama, speaking to the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders on August 31, said “Few people understand, I think, the stakes better than our Pacific Island leaders, because they’re seeing already the impact.” From rising sea levels to increasing air and ocean temperatures to shifting rainfall patterns, PICs are among the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change. The U.S. prioritizes its support for climate change adaptation to the most vulnerable developing countries like the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS). The United States has pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and has supported decisions taken by the GCF Board that will aim to improve access to funding for particularly vulnerable countries including PSIDS.
In addition, the U.S. has announced nearly $90 million to support climate adaptation activities in the Pacific Islands. This figure includes President Obama’s announcement on August 31 of nearly $40 million in new programming to enhance resilience to climate change and advance clean-energy development by building regional, national, and local capacity in the Pacific Islands to prepare for and help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
Under the new announcement, the United States hopes to help build regional capacity through the Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries to Adapt to Climate Change (ISACC) Programme, where the United States will invest up to $5 million to support regional organisations, the Pacific Community (SPC), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. In order to build national capacity, the United States is announcing $ 9 million for a major USAID climate adaptation program called Climate Ready, which will enhance the Pacific Islands’ ability to access climate finance. To enhance the local capacity for climate change adaptation, the United States is announcing $15 million in disaster risk reduction programmes next year, as well as continuing ongoing community-based initiatives. Finally, the United States is contributing $8 million into the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Facility, a World Bank multi-donor trust fund to support the creation of a disaster and climate risk insurance facility for Pacific Islands.
The ocean is a vital part of the Pacific economy and society, but today, the ocean is under tremendous pressure from human activity. Secretary Kerry will host the third Our Ocean conference in Washington D.C. on September 15-16, to focus the world’s attention on the key ocean issues of our time and encourage participants to undertake new commitments for significant and meaningful action to protect the ocean. These commitments will not only support the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the ocean, but will help us begin to improve the health of a resource we can depend on.
Enhancing maritime security and maritime domain awareness is critical to combating piracy, illegal fishing, and transnational crime in the Pacific. Illegal fishing activities result in an estimated $400 million revenue loss for the Pacific region each year—a figure that is greater than the GDP of a number of the countries in the region—and the inability of PICs to adequately patrol their waters leaves them vulnerable to external non-state actors and other non-traditional threats. The United States has been a strong partner with PICs in our shared effort to sustainably manage Pacific fisheries resources and combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The U.S. “shiprider” agreements with nine PICs provide a critical mechanism to cooperate on reducing IUU fishing and enhance maritime law enforcement. In addition, over the past several years, the United States has worked closely with the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia on maritime surveillance through the use of pilot surveillance projects and developing Maritime Domain Awareness strategies. We also launched Safe Ocean Network, which seeks to build a global community to strengthen all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing including detection, enforcement, and prosecution. This initiative has focused on increasing collaboration between countries and organizations combatting illegal fishing around the world, and includes several partners and projects in the Pacific Islands.
Sustainable Fisheries and Economic Development
The United States also supports sustainable fisheries and economic development in the Pacific Islands. The United States deeply values its nearly 30-year old partnership with the Pacific Islands under the 1987 Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries. We are encouraged that we reached agreement in principle on the general terms of fishing access under the Treaty for at least the next six years. Through the associated Economic Assistance Agreement, the United States provides the Pacific Island parties with $21 million in economic support funds annually to support economic development. U.S. vessels operate according to the highest standards and commercial best practices, are subject to strict enforcement by U.S. authorities, and support U.S. contributions to sound sustainable fishery management and efforts to combat IUU fishing. The United States is confident that our partnership with the Pacific Islands on fisheries has not only helped preserve this important resource for the region, but also has resulted in increased economic returns for Pacific Islanders through transparent arrangements.
The United States is supporting the Pacific Islands to develop their own sustainable fisheries industries through direct support for the private sector. The United States will invest $178,000 to bring the Fish 2.0 sustainable seafood business competition for 2017 back to the Pacific Islands region, in partnership with the Forum Fisheries Agency and Pacific Islands Trade and Invest. In 2015, the United States, through an initial $250,000 grant, brought the Fish 2.0 sustainable seafood business competition to the Pacific Islands region. This unique and innovative program enabled sustainable fisheries and seafood companies from the Pacific to receive mentoring and connect with investors in the United States interested in supporting sustainable companies in this sector. Over 40 participants attended two regional workshops providing business training in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia and Nadi, Republic of Fiji, and over 30 businesses participated in the Fish 2.0 competition. Five Pacific businesses advanced to the global competition finals in Palo Alto, California, where they networked with investors, pitched their ideas to investors interested in sustainable fisheries, developed new trade partnerships, and received significant media exposure. One Pacific business from the Republic of Vanuatu, Alfa Fishing, won a grand prize, while three others from the Republic of Fiji received prizes, including a meeting with Costco, a major wholesaler in the United States, training from Pentair, a US based global leader in aquaculture systems, and consulting support from leaders in the industry.
Peace and Security
The U.S. Department of State has provided assistance for the removal of World War II-era unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other legacies of war through conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs in the Pacific since 2009. In 2012 at the PIF PFD, then-Secretary Clinton announced an additional $3.5 million commitment to UXO clearance in the Pacific over the coming years. Since that time, we have funded over $5 million in unexploded ordnance removal in the Pacific Islands, and we hope to push this contribution to more than $6.5 million.
This funding supports ongoing programmes in the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, and Republic of Palau and allows us to respond effectively and quickly when new needs arise. When UXO was uncovered in Tuvalu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, the United States deployed Golden West Humanitarian Foundation’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to assist. Similarly, when the QRF was deployed to the Federated States of Micronesia, they performed an assessment of the UXO issue in Kolonia, Ulithi, and Yap. Using the QRF’s assessment, the United States is exploring plans to fund a capacity building program to provide the FSM with skills to perform a follow-on clearance mission to mitigate risks of leftover ordnance from World War II.
The United States supports the PIF’s decision to make cervical cancer—a very preventable but common cancer for women—a focus of its discussion. The United States is taking action to support crucial cervical cancer screening in the Pacific. Our Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides funding and technical assistance to the U.S. Pacific territories and the Freely Associated States, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau, to support their cervical cancer screening programs. HHS supports access to the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which could prevent much of the burden of cervical cancer as well as head and neck cancers caused by HPV.
The United States also applauds the focus that the Pacific Islands have placed on combatting non-communicable diseases (NCDs) of all types. The United States was pleased to have high level representation from HHS at the Pacific Community (SPC) Summit on NCDs in the Kingdom of Tonga last June. Later this year, the United States will sponsor ten health experts from across the Pacific to come to the United States to learn more about how we tackle problems relating to obesity and NCDs.
Promoting people-to-people ties in education, sports, culture, health, climate, oceans, and the environment allows the United States to reach out to the people of the Pacific Islands in direct, personal and lasting ways. In 2016, we are announcing about $5 million in funding for these people-to-people programmes, including scholarship and fellowship programmes with Pacific Islanders on issues like climate change, food security, and human rights. For example, the United States is sponsoring two young ocean conservation advocates representing the Republic of Fiji and the Republic of Palau to travel to the United States and attend the “Our Ocean, One Future Leadership Summit” on the margins of the Our Ocean Conference.
The United States recognises the importance of creating networks of young Pacific leaders, in particular women, to be better prepared to address future challenges. On the margins of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders and the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, the United States hosted the Future Leaders of the Pacific conference for the fourth year. This year’s programme brought over 20 youth from the Pacific Islands together with Native Hawaiian Islanders to build leadership skills to advance conservation. In October the United States will host the Indigenous Women Leadership Conference to mentor the next generation of indigenous women in Maori and Pasifika communities.
The U.S.-South Pacific Scholarship Program (USSP) was established by the United States Congress in 1994 to provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate degree study in the United States to students from Pacific Island Countries in fields important for the region’s future development such as agriculture, business, communication, education, environmental studies, gender studies, journalism, NGO management, political science, public administration, public health, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), and other related fields. Through an open competition, the East-West Center, which receives U.S. government support, has administered the USSP program since its inception. Six Pacific heads of state have participated in East-West Center and other U.S. government-supported exchange programmes.
U.S. embassies in Port Moresby, Samoa and Suva regularly recruit Fulbright candidates from the Pacific Islands for graduate study in the United States, under the Fulbright Foreign Student Programme, and several U.S. students annually conduct research in the region under the Fulbright U.S. Student Programme. Eight Pacific Island nations are eligible for the Humphrey Fellowship Program, which provides a year of professional development in the United States.
The Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship launched in partnership with the National Geographic Society in 2013, is also part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. It grants nine month fellowships to travel to one, two, or three countries to report stories, with the support of National Geographic’s editorial staff, on National Geographic’s blog, including a grant to the Republic of Fiji and the Republic of Kiribati focused on climate change and sea level rise.
The Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship provides U.S. early career professionals with an opportunity to be involved in policy implementation within partner government ministries during ten-month grants in which they serve as special assistants to senor level officials within the host government. In Samoa, ten Fellows have been placed in ministries since 2013, three of whom have supported climate change initiatives at the Ministry of Environment, including support of the development of the National Climate Change Strategy and participation with the Samoan delegation at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-21).
The State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is a two-day to three-week professional exchange program targeted to current and emerging foreign leaders. IVLP supports key U.S. foreign policy goals by engaging participants in meetings, site visits, and cultural activities with professional U.S. counterparts and other Americans. In FY15, 24 participants from the Pacific Islands participated in projects focused on accountability in government, water and natural resource management, women’s issues including health, cultural preservation, tourism development, civic engagement, anti-trafficking, refugee issues, human rights, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and promoting social good through the arts.
The United States’ Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has awarded more than $800,000 in grants since 2001 to support 24 cultural preservation projects in the Pacific Islands, including a $65,000 grant in 2015 for the documentation of Samoan cultural sites and associated oral traditions, and in 2016 the Fund continued support for the Conservation of the 12th-Century Royal Tombs of Tonga. More than half the projects involved the preservation of traditional music, crafts, or other form of intangible cultural heritage.
The privately-funded J-1 Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) also offers people-to-people ties and public diplomacy opportunities with youth and professionals from the Pacific Islands. In 2015, a total of 156 exchange visitors from the Pacific Islands came to the United States in 9 of the 13 educational and cultural exchange categories of the EVP. Overall, the program annually attracts nearly 300,000 individuals to the United States from around 200 countries and territories to study in U.S. high schools, universities, and research institutions; build professional, English language, and intercultural skills; and teach in U.S. schools, colleges and universities.
A security analyst says a key motive for France's effective addition to the Pacific Islands Forum is to stem the impact of Fiji's Frank Bainimarama.
New Caledonia and French Polynesia became the 17th and 18th members of the Forum at the weekend but it is France that controls their foreign policy.
Paul Buchanan of 36th Parallel Assessments said France has been concerned about the growing closeness between Fiji and China.
He said he believes France, which has been campaigning for its territories to join the Forum for some years, is worried by the increasing assertiveness of China in the region.
"Not only diplomatically, not only economically but increasingly militarily in the region, that is facilitated in part by the close association with Fiji and China in the wake of the coup of 2006, the sanctions that were imposed on Fiji as the result of that, and the declining influence of its traditional partners, Australia and New Zealand in particular, but the United States as well."