For many people around the world the South Pacific represents paradise.
Those of us who grew up in the South Pacific believe it is, indeed, as close to paradise as can be found on Earth.
The South Pacific is a vast ocean, dotted by islands with pristine beaches, lush forests, abundant seafood, tropical fruits and more. Each nation of the South Pacific has a rich cultural heritage, dating back thousands of years. It is a very special place, both in our imagination and in reality.
It evokes such a special place in our imagination, even if we have not yet visited, because the Pacific is also a place of delicate balance.
While the South Pacific has survived colonialism, war and even nuclear weapons testing by outside powers, it faces a new and very real threat.
The global warming associated with climate change is resulting in rising sea levels. For some of the small Pacific Island Countries, this is an existential threat. Some nations are made up of low-lying coral atolls only one or two meters above sea level. The rising sea levels are already endangering fresh water supplies and threaten to inundate inhabited islands before the end of this century.
Leaders from around the world are currently debating this critical issue in Paris at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Conference on Climate Change.
We welcome the support of the international community, including China, to help preserve the unique environment of the South Pacific.
We hope the leaders meeting in Paris will show wisdom and courage in tackling climate change for our global future.
We also need to manage another delicate balance in the South Pacific.
All of the Pacific Island Countries seek further development. Some are amongst the least developed nations in the world and need aid and economic development to help provide a better life for their people and opportunities for future generations.
But this development must take place hand in hand with preservation of the pristine and beautiful environment of the South Pacific. It must also help to strengthen and not weaken the unique and diverse cultures of the Pacific nations.
The environment and the cultures of the South Pacific are the very precious resources that these countries have.
These are what will draw tourists from all over the world to the South Pacific in the future.
So tourism can and must help us to manage this delicate balance.
There is a great opportunity here for us to get this right.
As we build the transport links, the resorts and the other tourism infrastructure in the South Pacific, we must ensure environmentally sustainable development and involve the local communities to ensure each new tourism development strengthens the resilience and the cultural vitality of the population.
China can be a leader.
President Xi Jinping has outlined a compelling vision to help develop finance, trade, investment and tourism connections along the One Belt, One Road, the New Silk Road to Europe and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The Pacific Islands are a natural extension of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, with growing trade, investment and tourism links to China.
The region is rich in natural resources, from minerals and energy to the world’s great fishery resource of the Pacific.
The Pacific Islands are, however, separated from major markets by distance and have underdeveloped infrastructure, including ports and air-links and other infrastructure for tourism and broader industry development.
The Chinese Government is supporting infrastructure development in the Pacific with a US$2 billion package of development aid, loans and education and training assistance. A number of Chinese firms are active in construction and other industries. Others are looking for commercial investment opportunities.
We welcome Chinese investment to help us build the sustainable tourism industry of the future, to help us preserve the beauty and the delicately balanced environment and to strengthen the cultures for generations to come in the South Pacific.
This industry is, at the end of the day, about people, our dreams, our passions, our memories. The South Pacific can be all of that and it can also be a great friend to the people of China if we can, together, manage the delicate balance and find a way to preserve the Pacific paradise for future generations.