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The Pacific: travelling with the Asian dragon

6 September 2011

The Pacific: travelling with the Asian dragon

Should the Pacific go it alone or ride with the Asian dragon? The answer is it can do both according to a conference hosted by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy in Auckland yesterday.

The conference, The Pacific Islands and the World: Realising the Pacific’s Potential’, was a curtain raiser for the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Summit which opens today. It brought together over 200 participants with an interest in issues concerning the Pacific region.

Opened by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the conference focused on how the Pacific should realise its economic potential and how it was responding to having the world’s economic powerhouse, Asia, in its backyard.

“The Pacific exists in the most dynamic economic region in the world but is it using this position to its own advantage? Is it taking the right approach to realise its potential? These are the questions we wanted to answer,” said Michael Wesley, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute.

“Pacific leaders gathering for the Forum this week need to address a fundamental question – should the Pacific ride off the back of Asia’s economic fortunes or should it dedicate its energies to building a stronger Pacific,” he said.

Three areas were identified as offering the greatest potential for economic and social development. The region’s natural resources, ranging from mineral deposits through to its fisheries, tourism including targeted at a growing Asian market and its people, through good leadership, labour migration and improved telecommunications/broadband services.

But it was the role of women, the need for better education and for inclusive government that stood out during the conference as the game changers.

In the end, Samoan Minister Fiame Mata’afa reflected the conference’s mood in suggesting that the Pacific didn’t have to choose between riding the Asian dragon or strengthening itself. It could do both. But the region had to be serious about working together – government with government, government with private sector and government with civil society.

The conference follows the success of the Lowy Institute’s first Pacific and the World conference in Brisbane in 2009. Similar to the conference held yesterday in Auckland, it brought together key decision-makers, private sector representatives, civil society and media to broaden contacts and understanding between Pacific island countries and other important players in the region.


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