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Speeches & Testimony

Foreign Affairs Committee Member Day Testimony

Washington, December 12, 2019

Thank you, Chair Engel, Ranking Member McCaul, Chair Sherman, Aloha! Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of this Committee's and our Congress' legislative initiatives focused on the Pacific Islands, a critical region for my Hawaii and our country.

The Pacific Islands and their exclusive economic zones encompass a vast area of the Pacific Ocean, larger than the land area of Russia and China combined. Their challenges, opportunities and our own engagements range across an equally wide spectrum from defense to development, governance, the environment and culture.

We have a shared history dating back hundreds of years and too many of our own, of course, have shed blood and still lie buried or lost throughout these lands and waters. The President's 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy rightly identified China as a central challenge and the Indo-Pacific as the region where the geopolitical competition between our countries and "between free and repressive visions of world order" is taking place.

Earlier this year, DoD issued its Indo-Pacific Strategy Report that emphasized revitalized engagement in the Pacific Islands. In this, we are behind the curve as not only China, but our partner countries including Australia, New Zealand and Japan have substantially ramped up their engagement over the past decade.

These Pacific Islands are critical to the United States not only because of our shared interest values and history, but also because our country of course is part of them. Together, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, and of course Hawaii provide vital links to this region, especially as Hawaii hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and its component commands, and institutions that promote our interests in the Pacific Islands such as the East-West Center and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

Given the importance of this region to our national security, I'm very proud to have co-founded this year the first-ever Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus with my friends, the Dean of this House Mr. Young and the Chairman Mr. Sherman and Ranking Member Mr. Yoho of this Committee, Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation.

I'm here today to testify in support of a sound cohesive and long-term U.S. strategy of full engagement in this region across all areas. This critical geopolitical competition in the Pacific Islands demands this whole of government strategy, which enhances and balances our military edge with necessary adjacent - additional increased development assistance and diplomatic and cultural engagement based on our shared values and history.

Specifically, Congress should enact legislation building on the progress made by ARIA and the bill deck (ph) from last Congress to provide the right tools and authorize the necessary funding to compete against potential adversaries and maintain trust among our allies and partners in our leadership.

This renewed effort is critical to our success. A few months ago, I met with fellows of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Leadership Program to discuss their perceptions of the United States and its role in the region. These young professionals and future leaders of their Pacific Island homes expressed to me they're concerned that the U.S. had neglected their part of the world.

To them, the connective tissue that has long bound our nations and peoples together was weakened by our perceived absence and strained by the rapidly changing regional dynamics. To address this challenge, I hope to work with my Caucus and this Committee on new and renewed initiatives in three areas: Diplomacy, development and democracy.

In diplomacy, this includes bolstering our presence in the Pacific Islands and participating more regularly at -- and at more senior levels in existing regional organizations like the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community and more. The development challenge in the -- challenges in the Pacific Islands present additional opportunities for U.S. engagement, especially in healthcare, fisheries and marine resource management, climate change and U.S. trade and private sector investment.

Lastly, we must support democracy, good governments and the rule of law in the Pacific Islands, just as we do around the world. By doing so, we empower citizens and civil society to combat corruption and hold the governments accountable in upholding their interest in sovereignty.

In conclusion, given the accelerating importance of the Pacific Islands for our national interest, I hope members of this Committee and other members of our body will consider joining our Pacific Islands Caucus and work with us to send a strong signal of our commitment to our allies and partners in this region.

I look forward to working with the Committee and its members and staff on achieving our goals in a region that will truly determine our place in a rapidly changing world for generations. Thank you for your time and interest.

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