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The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: Pacific Islands – China Economic Cooperation for Sustainable Development

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road:

Pacific Islands – China Economic Cooperation for Sustainable Development

A side event of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, Apia, Samoa.

Friday, 8 September 2017

 

THE PACIFIC ISLANDS AND CHINA

Remarks by Shiu Raj, Director Policy – Economic Governance
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa

Honourable Lautafi Selafi Purcell, Minister of Commerce, Industry & Labour, and Public Enterprises, Honourable Ministers

H.E. Ambassador Du Qiwen, China’s Special Envoy for the Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue

Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassadors, Heads of Delegations of PIF Dialogue Partners, Heads of regional organisations, members of the Private Sector from the Pacific and China

ladies and gentlemen.

 

It is my privilege to represent the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor, who as you know is currently in the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders retreat session.

I am honoured to be given the opportunity to speak to you about the Pacific Islands and China Economic Cooperation for sustainable development in our region.

Minister Purcell and Ambassador Du have very eloquently set out the broader perspectives on trade and investment, and the Sino-Pacific relations respectively.

Later in the programme, you will hear from panelists on infrastructure and connectivity, tourism, and fisheries. Allow me, therefore, to focus on other key aspects of Economic Cooperation from the Pacific Islands perspectives.

Those who attended the cocktail event hosted by the PIF Secretary General two days ago will recall that we were reminded of the basic reasons for the formation of the Pacific Islands Forum. One of them was the joint effort by Samoa and Fiji trying to export bananas about half a century ago, in 1960s.

To put the Pacific-China Economic Cooperation into perspective, I have decided to jog the memory lane and highlight some of the milestones and how the Pacific region has really come together over the recent decades, and why it is important for any economic cooperation relations, including with China, to build on that solidarity.

There are three important milestone events that I wish to refer to: first, the formation of the PIF; second, China becoming a Dialogue Partner; and third, the commencement of the China-Pacific Leaders Meeting.

The PIF as a group was formed in 1971 with only five island economies, together with Australia and New Zealand, as the founding Members. Today, we have eighteen Members.

One of the very immediate decision of the group was to set up the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC), which got established in 1972. Economic Cooperation was the underlying motive of these small islands coming together. And that motive continues even today. We are gathered here to discuss practical examples of Pacific-China Economic Cooperation.

We have been honoured to have the People’s Republic of China as a Forum Dialogue Partner since 1990, and we welcome Ambassador Du Qiwen, who is our old friend and has attended many of our Forum Dialogues in the past 28 years of the formal Pacific-China relationships. But the business to business transactions between the two regions had commenced much earlier.

At this juncture, I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the networking event hosted by Mr Samuel Chow of Liancheng Fishery yesterday evening, and it was pleasing to hear how their business has grown over the years in the Pacific into many different economic activities and to quite a number of Pacific Island countries.

Since 2006 we have had a series of leadership meetings under the mechanism of the China – Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Leaders Forum.  In 2014 leaders of eight Pacific Islands Countries had a particularly important meeting with the President of China, Xi Jinping at which significant pledges of support were made from China to assist Pacific Island Countries with development, infrastructure funding, education and training assistance across many other fields.

Earlier this year, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum visited China and met with the Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.  The visit was an opportunity to demonstrate and strengthen the strong and longstanding relations between the Pacific Islands Forum and the People’s Republic of China.

The Foreign Minister reiterated China’s commitment to working with the Pacific Islands Forum on important issues such as climate change and support for economic development, and pledged continued financial support for the work of the Pacific Islands Forum through the China-PIFS Development Cooperation Fund that includes funding for the programs of Pacific Trade & Invest (China) and its office in Beijing. 

We thank the Peoples Republic of China for their ongoing support to the Pacific Island Countries. We are very grateful for this support as it allows for Pacific Islands’ exports to China and facilitation of Chinese investments and tourism to the Pacific Islands.

We are also grateful for China’s generous assistance to the region, including the PIF-China Scholarship Programme, which supports the future leaders of our region travelling and studying in China.

While there are diverse challenges to economic development in the region, many challenges are also shared.  Our island economies are all distant from major markets, need capital and technical assistance to develop infrastructure and we need to develop sustainable industries to employ our people and to provide opportunities and community wellbeing into the future.

The Framework for Pacific Regionalism adopted by the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum provides the key principles for sustainable development, economic growth, strengthened governance, legal, financial & administrative systems, and security that ensures stable and safe human, environmental and political conditions for all. Regionalism priorities are determined through an inclusive public policy process and we seek support from the private sector to ensure effective execution of these priorities.

 

Trade, investment and tourism, which are actively promoted by our Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission in China, are growing strongly through:

o   Two-way merchandise trade between the Pacific Islands and China was valued at US$7.5 billion in 2016 (with FIC exports mostly commodities such as LNG, timber, nickel and fish).

o   More than 140,000 Chinese tourists visited the Pacific Island region in 2016 and there is strong potential to attract investment in infrastructure and services to support niche, sustainable and high value tourism growth from China.

Our PTI team is dedicated to working with the private sector across the Pacific islands region to identify and realise opportunities for trade, investment and tourism, so please do take the opportunity if you have not yet, to introduce yourselves to us today. 

 

Pacific-Asia Linkages

 

Let me now move to broader Pacific-Asia linkages. Forum Finance, Trade and Economic Ministers have called for practical implementable policies to leverage on the growth opportunities in Asia, particularly in China. Ministers recognised that strengthened engagement with China could increase opportunities for economic growth in key sectors in Forum Island Countries.

Earlier this year, the Forum Economic Ministers have directed the Secretariat to develop a Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Framework for interaction with Asian economies, in consultation with the Forum Island Countries, the private sector and relevant regional and international technical agencies, and report to the next FEMM. Work on this framework has commenced in partnership with relevant stakeholders.

 

To position the Pacific Islands in the Asia-Pacific Century, work has also commenced to develop guidelines and options for effective engagement. Before we break for lunch, we will be hearing more about the initial thinking on available options.

 

More specifically, a South-South Friendship Arrangement with China will also be explored in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the Civil Society Organisations to ensure that their concerns are adequately taken into consideration and socio-environmental safeguards are in place as the business to business and people to people linkages between Pacific and China is strengthened.

 

Our efforts to harness the Pacific-China Economic Cooperation arrangements is part of the broader Pacific-Asia linkage agenda.  In the coming years we are hoping to bring the Asia Pacific Business Forum to the Pacific, so that we can bring financiers, investors and policymakers together with the private sector to support the development of the Forum Island Countries through practical initiatives. But in the immediate future, we have the opportunity, through Papua New Guinea to link to Asia and beyond, as PNG takes over the Chair of APEC in November 2017 for a year.

 

Let me conclude with emphasis on the theme of this year’s PIF Leaders Meeting - The Blue Pacific: our sea of islands, our security through sustainable development, management and conservation. China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Belt and Road initiative will inevitably extend via our oceans and it is important that we work together in ensuring that the developments we will engage in, takes into account the health of our oceans, and provides a leverage for sustainable development opportunities for the Pacific islands.

 

We will hear more about oceans in the sessions later in the day. But let me finish my interview with the story on bananas! Where are we with our joint efforts to market bananas? Fiji, for example, had high ambitions on how the banana industry could support its growth – and banana still appears on her flag. Agriculture sector is important for many Pacific Island countries, and there are lots of opportunities for investment by China. But we need to invest in a model that is sustainable and which includes the resource owners. Products such as breadfruits, noni, rootcrops, coconuts, bananas, and many more have the potential for growth.

 

The important message to the Chinese private sector is that the Pacific is open for business. We want joint ventures to increase our exports to China. We want investments that is sustainable and that provides improved returns to the Pacific Islands.

 

Before I conclude, let me thank Ambassador Tapusaliaia Toomata, Samoan Ambassador to China for his stewardship and support in making this side event a success. I also wish to acknowledge the PTI team in China and all the sponsors from China and the Pacific for supporting various events. 

Shehshe! Thank you! Soifua!

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