TEA WITH THE EMPEROR

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OUR TURN Sir Geoffrey Henry, Prime Minister, Cook Islands October 24, 1997

While size is obviously one of the many differences between Japan and the Cook Islands, the two nations are not without their parallels. There are, for example, similarities in the spoken language, as the vowel sounds for Japanese are the same as used in Maori. More significantly Cook Islanders, historically isolated, have a reputation for friendliness. Similarly, Japan has been, historically, an insular nation and I was struck last week when at the Tokyo Summit, by the capacity of the Japanese to express genuine kindness to their visitors.

One of the difficulties facing small Pacific island states in the growth of their economies is the narrowness of their respective resource bases, and in this regard there are similarities with Japan which, not withstanding its larger population and surface area, lives with a similar ongoing dilemma. Japan has, nonetheless, managed to become the first 'economic miracle' of the Asian region. Like the small state of Singapore and the recently reunited former British territory of Hong Kong, Japan has shown the world that people remain the ultimate resource in achieving economic growth.

However, Japan remains dependent on an international basket of raw materials to feed its giant industries. It is a country acutely aware of the dangers of dependency. For this reason it seeks to ensure that there are a diversity of resources available from a diversity of sources. At the same time strenuous efforts are being made to increase energy efficiency. For example, many of Japan's power stations run on a diverse range of energy sources. (This has the positive spin-off of a concomitant reduction in CO2 levels).

While the current reform process has greatly assisted the Cook Islands in planning ahead for the future, Vision 2005 is a target only eight years away A country like Japan plans twenty and thirty years ahead.

This perhaps gives an insight into why the Japanese Government has shown an increasing interest in the South Pacific region after several decades of declining interest by the previously dominant Western powers. The South Pacific is part of that great resource basket which it may not need to tap now, but is likely to become important in the future. As standards of living throughout Asia continue to rise it is not so much migration from but rather the flow of resources to the East, which will become important.

While the gathering in Tokyo inevitably had less publicity here than the South Pacific Forum itself, which we hosted, it may in the long term prove to be no less important. It is the first time the Forum leaders had tea with the Emperor, but the growth in the symbiotic relationship between Japan and the Forum countries in the years to come will surely ensure it will not be the last.

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