Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Leaders of 22 nations, territories meet in Hawai‘i

By Ratu Sir Kamisese K.T. Mara

Research on Pacific Islands

PIDP serves as the research arm of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders and secretariat of the Conference Standing Committee. Current research focuses on economic development, including its social and cultural aspects; renewable energy; the economic potential of manganese nodules found within the exclusive economic zones of Pacific island nations; small-business development; international trade and investment; and population issues.

PIDP’s education and training initiative, as approved by the standing committee, provides scholarships for undergraduate and graduate study, short-term training scholarships, and special intern scholarships. For more information on PIDP, visit the East-West Center Web site (


Five days a week, PIDP compiles a range of breaking news items from around the Pacific region and posts the top 20 stories on the Internet as the Pacific Island Report. Now in its fifth year, the report also provides human-interest stories, news releases from regional organizations and governmental bodies, special editorial features, and links to other Pacific islands news and information sites. The Pacific Islands Report is at


As secretariat of the U.S.-Pacific Islands Joint Commercial Commission, the PIDP maintains the Pacific Islands Business Network on the Internet. The network provides purchasing agents, overseas investors, and individual consumers with details about products and services available in JCC member Pacific Island countries and profiles with specific information on doing business in each country. The network address is

When the presidents, prime ministers, governors and officials of 22 nations and territories in the Pacific islands region convene at Hawaii’s East-West Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will mark the 20th anniversary of a truly unique cooperative endeavor.

The new millennium was far away when I and the other heads of government met at the historic first Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders and established the Conference Standing Committee and the Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP) at the East-West Center.

We focused on the theme of "Development the Pacific Way," a concept very close to me as I was, I believe, the first to coin the phrase. To me, development the Pacific way conveys my strong belief about the Pacific people and the way they relate to each other. This emphasis on people and their relationships also was what the founders of the East-West Center had in mind when they established the center in 1960.

It gives me great satisfaction to note that the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders continues to have as a parallel vision the free interchange of information and ideas between the leaders and scholars of different persuasions in our island nations. This is why you will find to this very day that nowhere else is there a more direct, free exchange of views and ideas between national leaders - at the level of the heads of government - and the researchers and scholars of an academic institution.

Instead of receiving watered-down research reports that have been filtered through several levels before reaching decision-makers, members of the standing committee receive briefings directly from East-West Center researchers on their most recent findings and their work in progress.

Stimulating discussions ensue, providing a two-way flow of information that is mutually beneficial. In all respects, this is a unique organization in the history of regional cooperation that is worthy of emulation by our Asian neighbors.

The meetings of Pacific leaders here in Hawaii, itself a Pacific state, allows for substantive discussions of matters that are of critical importance to the entire region. I recall, for example, most useful discussions of energy during that period when supplies were short and we were at the mercy of international oil firms. What made the research findings and subsequent training programs for our own staff especially valuable is that EWC researchers were not beholden to the oil companies.

Through the years, the PIDP conducted research and presented findings on such issues as the role of the private sector in Pacific islands development, ties between urban and rural development, opportunities for tourism development, financing of private sector development, promotion of regional trade and investment, population concerns, formulation of national development strategies, and conceptualization of what sustainable development means in a Pacific Islands context.

At our meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at the East-West Center, we will be considering critical issues of governance in an era of globalization, tensions between global and local cultural values, and opportunities for island societies through new information technologies.

Looking ahead, we should also increase cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At the same time, it is important to maintain and strengthen cooperation with the United States. All of this can contribute to a stronger and more vibrant Asia-Pacific community.

We have confidence that there is no better institution for strengthening these linkages, with a time-tested record of accomplishment, than the East-West Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program. This certainly was borne out when then-U.S. President George Bush requested in 1990 that a summit meeting convene at the East-West Center with the leaders of Pacific island nations.

Bush was not only empathetic to our particular issues and concerns, but also prepared to commit the United States to longer-term action. As a result of the summit, the U.S.-Pacific Island National Joint Commercial Commission was established, with the PIDP housing its secretariat.

This was the first time that the United States ever agreed to such a commercial commission for an entire region.

Like all useful organizations, the PIDP over the years has evolved to meet our changing needs. Today, the program supports a daily Internet site, with breaking news from the region as well as scholarship programs for Pacific island students. But what has not changed is the fundamental nature of this unique cooperative endeavor, the heart of which is a direct, unfettered, face-to-face dialogue between Pacific island political leaders and the East-West Center.

More than ever before, we need to raise a collective voice in the international arena to ensure that the metropolitan powers and developing nations in other parts of the world fully recognize the special character of our Pacific region.And further, we must continue to work in partnership with the East-West Center to build our own dynamic Pacific community.

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