Partners and friends from near and far convened in Washington, DC, on March 8th, to celebrate the inaugural launch of The Pacific Islands Matter for America / America Matters for the Pacific Islands publication and website. This publication was created by the East-West Center, with the support of the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs and the cooperation of the US House of Representatives Pacific Islands Caucus. It will be a premier resource for data and analysis on the region, bringing over a century of relations with the United States to policymakers and governing officials to equip them to address contemporary issues including security, cultural exchange, and trade. The publication covers the Pacific Islands countries and territories including the US territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. The publication also covers Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The launch was a hybrid event, with an in-person event on Capitol Hill as well as virtual attendees. The in-person event welcomed over 100 guests representing a range of voices from the US government, US military, Pacific governments, academia, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. Participants gathered to recognize and celebrate the importance of the Pacific Islands and the unique relationships with the United States that exist in the region as well as discuss regional matters such as Compacts of Free Association.
In his welcoming remarks, East-West Center Vice President Dr. Satu Limaye noted, “I know that there are many things going on, there are lots of things on our minds, but this really is an opportunity to reflect and talk a little bit about the Pacific Islands and their crucial role, not only in international affairs but certainly in the US relationship with them.”
[Image: East-West Center]
Newly inaugurated East-West Center President Suzanne Vares-Lum contextualized the initiative in the vision of the East-West Center and her personal experience as a native Hawai'ian. “You know, it’s so special to be here because the Pacific does matter to America and America does matter to the Pacific...The United States— we are a Pacific nation... I can attest to the fact that we are very proud of where we come from, and who we are, and the values that we represent.”
The co-chairs of the Pacific Islands Caucus — Rep. Ami Bera (CA-7), Rep. Ed Case (HI-1), Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-1), Rep. Brad Sherman (CA-30), Rep. Don Young (AK-at large), as well as Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen (American Samoa)— expressed the importance of the Pacific Islands to the United States, especially given the long history of the United States’ engagement in the region, and a desire to do more to strengthen the relationship. Keone Nakoa, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs, Erika L. Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison for the White House Office of the Chief of Staff, Mark Lambert, Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Cara Allison Marshall, Principal Director of East Asia OSD-Policy/Indo-Pacific Security Affairs from the Department of Defense, also shared their excitement and support for this initiative.
[Image: East-West Center]
Regional ambassadors were also present to share remarks. H.E. Arthur Sinodinos from Australia and H.E. Rosemary Banks from New Zealand both stressed the importance of working alongside Pacific Island countries. H.E. Hersey Kyota from Palau and H.E. Dr. Satyendra Prasad from Fiji highlighted economic issues, and the shared responsibility the United States and the Pacific Islands have on the health of the Pacific Ocean. Finally, H.E. Gerald M. Zackios from the Republic of the Marshall Islands acknowledged International Women’s Day and emphasized the role women have in the peace, prosperity, and security of the region.
The US-Indo-Pacific relationship is robust, dynamic, and critical for maintaining prosperity and peace at home and abroad. Understanding the role the United States plays in the Pacific and the role the Pacific Islands play in the United States are necessary steps to strengthen existing relationships and create new, effective policies. The Pacific Islands Matter for America / America Matters for the Pacific Islands initiative will tackle this objective head on and serve as a medium of information and insight into the true value behind these relationships.
Christina Durham is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is currently a first-year graduate student at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service.