U.S. To Intensify Outreach Efforts in the Pacific Islands

By Jane Morse
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States plans to expand its public diplomacy efforts in the Pacific Islands through a new public affairs office in Fiji and expanded exchange and English-language programs, says the State Department’s Karen Hughes.

In remarks to the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders May 8, Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said the State Department is hoping to increase the numbers of participants from the Pacific Islands region in U.S. education and exchange programs.

“Our experience has proven that these people-to-people programs which foster lifelong connections are the single best way to build positive, lasting relationships with other peoples and nations,” she said.  Participation in these programs has increased worldwide from 27,000 in 2004 to nearly 39,000 in 2006, she said.

“We hope over the coming years to expand our flagship academic programs in the area, and we will be inviting the future leaders of your countries to participate in the International Visitor Leadership program,” she said.  This program brings young leaders in a variety of fields to the United States for three weeks of travel and meetings with their American counterparts.

Hughes said the State Department also plans to open a new regional public affairs office at the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, this summer.  According to Hughes, the office will introduce a broad array of press, cultural and education programs to the region in conjunction with the American embassies in Fiji, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Hughes, who described herself as “a big fan” of English-language teaching programs, said she would ask the new public affairs officer at the Suva office to add English-language programs where needed.  Mastery of English, she said, often gives a huge advantage to young people looking for jobs.

The under secretary said the State Department will be more active in bringing speakers to the region to discuss topics of mutual interest in addition to hosting digital video conferences with U.S. experts who are not able to travel.

The United States will continue its existing Pacific Island Scholarship Program, which brings five students each year from selected countries to the United States for undergraduate and graduate degrees, she said.

The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders is part of the U.S. government's focus in 2007 - designated the "Year of the Pacific" - on efforts to increase stability, good governance and economic development in the region through closer political, economic and cultural ties. The Washington venue is the first for the triennial conference, which is organized by the Honolulu-based East-West Center and brings together the heads of government and other senior officials from the Pacific region, including Hawaii and the U.S. territories.

Glyn Davies, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, described the “Year of the Pacific” as part of the U.S. effort to develop a “whole of government” approach with the Department of Defense, Coast Guard, Department of the Interior, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Peace Corps and other agencies to expand the U.S. presence and activities in the region.

Hughes said the Bush administration is emphasizing “Diplomacy of Deeds” - concrete humanitarian and development initiatives for improving lives around the world.  The focus is on education, health and economic opportunity, she said.

“America believes in the dignity and worth and equality of every person,” she said, “and our actions in the world demonstrate that conviction.”

As examples, she cited U.S. rescue and aid operations after the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands in April, ongoing U.S. efforts to fight malaria in the region and U.S. support to the Philippine government to confront terrorists in the country.

“America wants to partner with you in ways that result in a better life for the people of your nations,” Hughes said.  “We want to partner with you to promote civil society with small, targeted grants to NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] to encourage grassroots efforts to strengthen democracy.”