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Old Friends, New Challenges: New Zealand and the United States in the Asia-Pacific Century

Failed states in any part of the world affect not only their own citizens. The work we are doing on stability with our Pacific partners is, we believe, just as relevant to the United States as it is to us. The South Pacific in the 21st Century is not quite how Rodgers and Hammerstein portrayed it in the 1958 film. We do welcome the helpful and supportive interest the United States has shown in the problems in Timor Leste and the Solomons.

The most recent challenge to democracy in our region has been in Fiji. The problems are not new—last year's military coup was the fourth in nineteen years. We are deeply concerned by the behaviour of the military regime which has installed itself in Suva. It has created a climate of fear, repressing freedom of expression and other basic human rights. Public confidence in key institutions of state has been undermined, and there is talk of elections not being held again for some years.

This behaviour is unacceptable. Fiji, the second largest Pacific Island country, with a well-developed tourism infrastructure, and as the regional hub, should be serving as a model for the region. New Zealand is not alone in this view—there has been a chorus of condemnation by all major players in the region. We have particularly appreciated our close co-ordination on Fiji with the United States, and the European Union.

The Pacific Islands Forum, at Foreign Minister level, has as recently as last Friday called on Fiji to commit to an election within 24 months, if not sooner. The international community has been asked to support the action taken by the region to restore constitutional order and democracy to Fiji. The Fiji military have been expressly enjoined by the Foreign Ministers to withdraw from their involvement in the interim government and to restore civilian rule. This is a call which Commander Bainimarama and those who have taken positions in his military government would do well to heed fully.

Recent years have seen a number of external partners increase their level of diplomacy in the Pacific, and we have welcomed the greater U.S. involvement. This country has longstanding linkages with the region, notably from its presence during the Second World War, as well as through ongoing constitutional ties with the Compact States in Micronesia, with American Samoa, and indeed with Hawaii.

The United States is a valued partner in the Pacific Islands Forum dialogue partner process, and it has considerable development expertise and resources to help the region address its challenges. New Zealand welcomes the recent decision by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to provide assistance for Vanuatu, and hopes to see the Corporation's involvement in the region eventually broaden. We also welcome the Administration's decision to designate 2007 as "The Year of the Pacific" and to expand its footprint across the region.

But it is not just in the South Pacific where New Zealand has been working closely with the United States. We have common interests in counter terrorism and counter proliferation in the broader Asia Pacific and internationally, and in trade policy too.

New Zealand deplores North Korea's development of a nuclear weapons capability. Its testing of a nuclear device and ballistic missiles last year was provocative and destabilising. The unanimous adoption of a Security Council Resolution against North Korea demonstrated that the world was united in condemning the regime's reckless actions.