His Excellency Winston Thompson
Ambassador of the Republic of Fiji to the
United States (Washington, DC)
Former Ambassador of Fiji to the United Nations
Fellow, Pangea World
“Valuing the Island Nations’ Dormant Capital along the
Pacific Bridge to Noble Wealth”
As I was reading and gathering material preparing these remarks, I was fascinated by a series of events which took place over 170 years ago, from 1836 to 1842. Although I had learned of these events some time ago, it is only recently that its significance to present day events has been brought home to me.
In 1836, by an Act of Congress, the United States Exploring Expedition was authorized as “A Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas”. It was the first scientific voyage sponsored by the then young government of the United States. It was a remarkable decision promoted by far-sighted leaders predating the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences by almost twenty five years.
Under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and known as the Wilkes Expedition, it sailed from Norfolk, Virginia in August 1838 and by the time it returned to New York nearly four years later in June 1842, it had visited and explored many places from eastern South America, northward to Washington state and westward to SE Asia, including many Pacific islands. Some 40 tons of specimens from that expedition, covering natural history, ethnography and archaeology, now reside in the Smithsonian. Surprisingly, it is probably still the largest comprehensive collection of such material from the Pacific Islands which has been thoroughly studied and catalogued.
In searching for the basis of crafting a future pathway for our region, this priceless treasure trove can become a knowledge resource to help create a time-series picture of the evolution of the flora and fauna on land and in the oceans of our region. Many institutions around the world, including the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji are working on identifying and clarifying the contents of these storehouses of knowledge.
Over the past twenty years, as our Pacific islands region has searched for and implemented models of economic and social development, relevant and sustainable in the context of the region, the then conventional wisdom of the Bretton Woods institutions first universally embraced was found to fall far short of the theoretical improvements they promised. A new paradigm began to find resonance in a region moving inevitably towards hospitality industries based on the natural attractions of the islands. The new model was based on Tourism for Conservation through Research or TCR. And this new approach was being developed and persuasively presented by Dr. Hana Ayala, who subsequently further refined it into a foundation of the “Bridges to Noble Wealth” sustainable-development paradigm. She singled out the Pacific Island region as a pilot implementation ground for her original vision that bestows—on the premise of their worth as exceptional reservoirs of scientific knowledge—economic relevance upon the currently economically marginalized natural resources of high conservation importance. The Pacific Bridge to Noble Wealth will emblemize her novel strategy of interlinking and valuing multiple pools of knowledge-rich natural capital as an inexhaustible competitive advantage that naturally-privileged countries hold in the emerging global knowledge economy. The insertion into this noble bridge of a flagship “legacy-investment” opportunity off Panama’s Pacific coast underscores the new geography that her paradigm charts for the knowledge-propelled economy of the 21st century.
At meetings held at the United Nations in New York in 2010 and in Fiji in 2010, Pacific Islands’ leaders enthusiastically endorsed the relevance to their countries of the Pacific Bridge to Noble Wealth as propounded by Hana Ayala. The escalating concern about the impact of climate change, global warming and sea level rise has increasingly preoccupied Pacific Leaders almost to the exclusion to all else. The numerous meetings on climate change held over the past two years have seen a coalescing of the common interests of the 40-strong Small Islands Developing States of which the 14-member Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) constitute a not insignificant bloc.
While concern is understandably focused on obtaining international consensus on measures to be taken to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, especially by the major green house gases emitters, urgent steps should be put in place to identify and define the “noble wealth” that exist in each island country. This would constitute their asset for the future benefit of their people, even if their islands are submerged by sea level rise.
The University of California at Irvine and the affluent investor community of California have a splendid opportunity, not only to partner with governments and the private sector of the region to become involved in a pressing humanitarian cause but to also invest in the “noble wealth” which promises to be the mainspring of future prosperity.
Fiji’s vision for a peaceful, progressive and prosperous future is being consolidated by the substantial reforms which have now been completed; a new constitution promulgated based on universal principles of democracy; human rights and the rule of law and the general elections scheduled for September.
The Fiji-based regional University of the South Pacific, the Fiji National University and University of Fiji are developing their research capabilities, this insures the establishment of the future Pacific center for exploring and harnessing the region’s noble wealth. I have assured Hana that I remain strongly committed to her vision and as a Pangea Fellow, I will continue to strive to promote what I believe is the best model for socio-economic upliftment of the island countries in our region.