Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in his official capacity as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment he led an historic roundtable dialogue in the U.S. Capitol that brought together governments from a region spanning one-third of the globe. The meeting, co-hosted by Hawaii and Guam’s representatives, was designed to broaden and deepen the Pacific Island region’s engagement with the United States and to honor the East-West Center-based Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders which included Prime Ministers, Presidents and Governors from twenty island entities.
The leaders convened for the first time in Washington, DC and, for many from the South Pacific, it was their first time to visit the Nation’s capital and their first exposure to the U.S. Congress. At the invitation of Congressman Faleomavaega, key Members of Congress welcomed the leaders and participated in the roundtable discussion which was held in the ornate Henry Hyde Room of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday May 8, 2007.
Attendees included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Chairman Tom Lantos of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman Charles Rangel of the Committee on Ways and Means, Chairman Neil Abercrombie of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, Chairwoman Donna Christensen of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Ranking Member Luis Fortuno of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Chairman Donald Payne of the Subcommittee on Africa, Congressman Mike Honda of the Committee on Appropriations and Chairman of the Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Congresswoman Mazie Hirono of the Hawaii Delegation, Congresswoman Diane Watson of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Former US Ambassador to Micronesia, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
Topics of discussion included economic development, security, trade, aid and fisheries, as well as the desire of island leaders to see an expansion of public diplomacy programs, especially those of an educational nature. In fact, the leaders expressed their appreciation for the highly competitive South Pacific Scholarship Program, an educational endeavor pioneered by Congressman Faleomavaega that brings some of the Pacific’s best and brightest undergraduate and graduate degree students to the United States. The program has enhanced technical skills in the region and helped to advance South Pacific islanders understanding of the United States.
The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders was also pleased to learn that Chairman Faleomavaega has introduced legislation to increase funding for the South Pacific Scholarship Program and to enhance the Fulbright program to include even the smallest nations. The island leaders also were supportive of legislation that would mandate the return of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Pacific.
After more than three hours of dialogue, Island Leaders were given a special tour of the Capital and an official copy of a House Resolution recognizing the historic precedent-setting nature of their visit. It was agreed that periodic visits of a similar nature would be most beneficial, and the East-West Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program was identified as being well-suited to helping promote strong relations between the United States and our Pacific neighbors.
The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders noted their “deep appreciation” to the United States Congress, “particularly Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, for making the roundtable discussion on Capital Hill a success.” At Faleomavaega’s request, the day’s activities ended with a photo op with the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, the third most powerful leader of the free world and the first woman in history to become Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
“I want to personally thank Speaker Pelosi for taking time from her busy schedule to address the delegation at Pacific Night and extending to them the courtesies they rightfully deserved as dignitaries of Pacific Island nations. I also thank the Hawaii Delegation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the New Zealand Embassy, and the East-West Center for working together to make these events a great success for our Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders,” Faleomavaega concluded.