Greetings, Ambassador Kim, Ministers and Colleagues, Members of the Aronga Mana, and distinguished guests Annyeong hasiminkka.
May I first say that I am delighted to be here this evening with you to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Cook Islands and the Republic of Korea.
Let me also extend a special welcome to Deputy Director Kang and her team, that made a long journey from Seoul to be here with us this evening.
There is a saying, “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Looking back at the journey the Cook Islands and Korea took together over the past 10 years, this proverb may well reflect the relations between our two nations as well.
Some may say that the distance of ten thousand kilometers places us apart, but we are joined by the Blue Pacific Continent and our commitment to working together bilaterally and as part of a collective for advancing Pacific regionalism. Over the last decade, we have nurtured our valued relationship as friends who sharpen the countenance of each other.
On the economic side, the Cook Islands faced an economic crisis in 1996. Outside observers predicted that our crisis would last for many years, resulting in a collapsed economy, mounting unemployment, labour unrest, and a mass exodus. Korea, too faced a similar crisis in the winter of 1997.
Many experts anticipated an economic collapse, runway inflation, street protests, and political instability. But, just like the Cook Islands, Korea came back with remarkable success and stability. It is not just stability that Korea achieved. In fact, as I understand it, last year, the Korean GDP growth came in at 2.7% and is estimated to reach a value of USD$1827.00 billion at the end of this year.
I deliver this address as a Prime Minister who is part of a leadership that, from the very start of the global pandemic, chose the health, safety, and well-being of our population over economic gain. The Cook Islands economy has been stunted by the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to face challenges in its journey toward recovery.
We look to genuine development partners like Korea as we move toward recovery. Even though the speed and magnitude may differ, this recovery is similar to what Korea has been experiencing. And more importantly, our comebacks are both owed to the firm determination, hard work, perseverance, and tenacity that both the Cook Islands and Korean people are well known for. Iron sharpens Iron.
The similarities between the Cook Islands and Korea do not end with our experiences in the last three years. In fact, our modern histories may look different on the outside, but they retain similar undercurrents on the inside.
The key theme shared in our histories is in the struggle to build a better future, we strive to provide opportunities for the self-determination of our peoples — even as our nations grapple with the enduring challenges of this modern world.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the fragilities of our environment and ecosystems. The ecological crisis caused by the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources is much more complex and enduring and requires shared long-term solutions.
Climate change and its related impacts, coupled with the intensification of geostrategic competition, also further exacerbated the region’s existing vulnerabilities.
As Blue Pacific neighbours, we are custodians of some of the world’s richest biodiversity and marine resources and recognise that this natural endowment is our greatest asset that must be sustainably managed for the benefit of our present and future generations.
A shared Ocean means a shared responsibility and shared benefits for our environment, our economies, and our communities. Though separated by vast distances, the Pacific Ocean unites our two nations in a common purpose – it is our home and our key to a future of infinite promise. Therefore as guardians of the largest portion of the Pacific Ocean, our leadership matters.
This year the Cook Islands is at the helm of leadership for the region as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. We look to engage further with Korea through ongoing policy dialogue and development cooperation through the ROK-PIF Cooperation fund. This annual fund of USD$1.5 million, managed through our CROP Agencies, equips and delivers support that encourages cooperation and builds capacity and resilience towards Pacific priorities.
As Forum Chair, we emphasise the importance of sufficient and timely access to climate finance for our Blue Pacific. Without this investment, we face serious and growing loss and damage bills for the region and also run the risk of being locked into fossil fuel-dependent technology and infrastructure.
If we were able to access just 5 percent of the 100 billion per year promised under the UNFCCC, this would equate to 5 billion a year channelled into addressing these urgent and real needs of our Blue Pacific.
We welcome Korea’s commitment to increase its climate finance contributions and encourage finance to be challenged through Pacific solutions such as the Pacific Resilience Facility, as well as through multilateral funds.
We are committed to implementing the necessary changes, to seize opportunities to not only recover the ground that we have lost over the course of this pandemic but to place our economy on a new path to economic resilience while tackling climate change and social disparities.
The Cook Islands welcomes the opportunity to further strengthen people-to-people links and human resource development with Korea, to increase education and employment opportunities for the people of the Blue Pacific. This includes strengthening knowledge sharing and technical expertise on areas critical to our region and for which Korea has great strengths, including on quality infrastructure development, private sector development and innovation, and health and education systems.
These shared experiences indeed allow the people in the Cook Islands and Korea to understand, learn and grow with one another on a deeper level. And there lies our foundation for mutual trust, friendship, and shared commitment to - an unrelenting pursuit of - sustainable development as well as technical and economic cooperation in the areas of governance, marine and fisheries, renewable energy, and a shared concern for the impacts of climate change. Iron sharpens iron.
Today, I am optimistic about what our future has in store for us because I am confident that our relationship is built on a solid foundation, moving us toward greater friendship and much more meaningful cooperation. For the last decade, the Cook Islands shined as her noble friends like Korea were there to sharpen her countenance. At this juncture in our journey, we lay down another cornerstone – our ten-year anniversary of diplomatic relations – and look to a common bright future of hope, peace, and prosperity.
At this time, I invite you all to charge your glasses and join me in toasting this relationship.