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Giant ocean states of the Pacific engaging with China

Speech to the Bank of China Belt & Road International Finance Seminar, Beijing, June 20, 2017

Pacific peoples are the custodians of the world’s largest, most peaceful and abundant ocean, its many islands and its rich diversity of cultures.

This was the first line from the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Statement that began the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

In the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, the Leaders set our a vision:

“Our Pacific Vision is for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives.“

Of course the largest part of achieving a vision is the combined effort of the region’s people.

But also of great importance is the region’s international engagement.  We live in a world that is getting smaller, from globalization of trade, investment, movement of people and information.  We also live in a world of global challenges such as climate change.

So the Pacific Islands Forum, which has active international dialogues with all of the region’s major economic partners, welcomes stronger partnerships with China to help us achieve our Pacific Vision.

With Head of Finance for the Federated States of Micronesia, Sihna Lawrence, at the Opening Ceremony

To understand the opportunities, it is worth considering this:

The Pacific Island Countries are giant ocean states.  Though relatively small in population, they are rich in resources from the sea and from the land.  With 90% of the world’s trade moving by sea, the Pacific Ocean is also a super-connector, joining many of the world’s major economies.

At the 2017 United Nations Oceans Conference in New York, world leaders committed to conserve and sustainably use our oceans and marine resources for sustainable development.

We therefore have an important challenge, to support development that will provide jobs and opportunities for the communities of the Pacific Islands, while also protecting the unique environment of the Pacific for the future.

Indeed, the environment of the Pacific Islands is what makes the region unique. 

It is the unique Pacific environment that provides the pure, quality products and that attracts visitors to enjoy beautiful and adventurous tourism.

With the rapid economic shift of the global economy, driven largely by the growth of China, there will be new opportunities to finance and build regional infrastructure and connectivity to reduce the distance to major markets and therefore to support new industry development.

To ensure the Pacific Islands benefit from this major shift occurring in the world economy, we will need to understand the trends, discuss and agree how to build platforms for engagement and mutual benefit.

We welcome President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to build infrastructure, connectivity, trade and investment across the land “belts” and sea “roads” that potentially connect us all.  The Belt and Road Initiative builds upon the historic Silk Road and we are pleased to see the concept encompassing a commitment to peace, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.  To succeed, the Belt and Road Initiative will require us all to invest in people to people relationships and build better understanding, in order to foster economic interaction and cooperation.

Our Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission stands ready to work with governments, businesses and others to build economic cooperation between China and the Pacific Islands, in support of sustainable development.

Key areas in which there are good opportunities for investment include:

  • Infrastructure: Regional Asian financial institutions and governments have made significant pledges of financial support for infrastructure and other development projects in the Pacific that are providing a legacy of public goods. There remains a significant infrastructure deficit across the Pacific Islands region.

  • Tourism: Asian, in particular Chinese, outbound tourism is growing in numbers and in spending power, while also diversifying. More and more independent travellers are looking for unique experiences such as learning about different cultures, enjoying natural environments, sampling traditional food and recreational activities such as diving.  The Pacific Islands have a diversity of traditional cultures, renowned pristine environments and unique destinations for diving, adventure tourism and relaxation.  There is a need for investment in direct air links, cruise facilities, resort and other infrastructure.

  • Fisheries: Asian demand for seafood continues to grow strongly and the pressure for food security and pressures on resources make it important for us to develop more cooperation in managing and policing sustainability of the fisheries resources.  Fisheries are the most abundant resources of the Pacific Islands but there is overfishing of some species and not enough of the value of fishing remains in Pacific Island communities.  The tuna fishery is worth an estimated $4 billion a year but only 15% of that accrues to Pacific Island Countries, mainly through fishing licenses.  There is potential for investment in value adding, aquaculture and other fisheries-related services to improve returns and create more jobs in the developing nations of the region, while strengthening food security.

  • Agriculture: Growth in tourism infrastructure and services, including improved transport links, can support local agricultural industries to supply the tourism industry and access export markets.  There is much room for agricultural development in some of the larger Pacific Island Countries.

And there are other areas of strong opportunity including energy and resources.

We have much work to do and this program of the Bank of China is a great contribution, bringing together people from across the region to learn and build relationships that we hope can lead to cooperation.

I want to thank the Bank of China for its generosity in putting together this impressive Belt and Road International Financial Seminar and I invite all participants to utilise the knowledge to develop project proposals, which we look forward to supporting.

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