Cook Islands looks to expand co-operation with China

Prime Minister Henry Puna met with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby last week in the margins of the APEC Leaders’ Summit.

PORT MORESBY,22 NOVEMBER 2018 (COOK ISLANDS GOVT) – Prime Minister Henry Puna met with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby last week in the margins of the APEC Leaders’ Summit.

The bilateral engagement was the second meeting between the two, the first in 2014 in the margins of the China-Pacific Islands Country Leaders Meeting in Fiji. In addition to the bilateral engagement, a roundtable between President Xi and Pacific Islands Leaders was also held.

This year marks 21 years diplomatic relations between the Cook Islands and China and during the meeting in Port Moresby, the two Leaders pledged to strengthen co-operation including through expanded economic co-operation and deepening cultural and people to people relations.

“It was a very warm and constructive exchange in keeping with what I’ve become accustomed to in high level exchanges with representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” said Prime Minister Puna.

Earlier this month, the 2 governments signed through their respective diplomatic envoys in Wellington two new co-operation arrangements as part of expanding co-operation.

The first, an economic and technical cooperation agreement (ETCA) for the provision of RMB Yuan 50,000,000 (approximately NZ$10,000,000) by China to the Cook Islands in grant funding for a project yet to be determined by the Cook Islands Government. The second, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Under the Cook Islands/China BRI MOU, the two Governments have agreed to promote between themselves policy coordination, facilities connectivity, trade, financial co-operation and people to people relations.

“Our relationship with China over the last 20 years has been fruitful with notable contributions by China to significant public infrastructure facilities in the Cook Islands and China’s support towards expansion of the Cook Islands international engagement,” said Prime Minister Puna. “The BRI MOU provides an elevated platform upon which we can focus future bilateral and multilateral co-operation.”

In addition to the Cook Islands, more than 60 countries have signed the BRI with China over the last 2 years including New Zealand which signed a BRI Memorandum of Arrangement in March 2017.

It is hoped the BRI MOU will facilitate expanded co-operation between the two countries, particularly economic co-operation.

By way of example, the Cook Islands Government, led by Cook Islands Tourism has already advanced marketing strategies in recent years for the China tourism market targeting the growing affluent market in China for travel to compliment the low and shoulder season in the Cook Islands. By per visitor expenditure, Chinese tourists are the second highest in the Cook Islands. The designation by China through the BRI of 2019 as the Year of Pacific Tourism elevates the Cook Islands and Pacific profile in China which in turn should deliver higher yields from the China tourism market.

“China’s increased engagement with the Cook Islands and the Pacific over the last 20 years has drawn interest and engagement in the region by other powers, both traditional and new. This has availed the Cook Islands opportunities in trade, diplomacy, development co-operation and investment which we welcome,” said Prime Minister Puna.

It is expected officials will in the year ahead further discuss specific initiatives under the BRI MOU which might be pursued..

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