YL Blog #51 – Mapping Hawaiʻi’s Transition From Fossil-Fuels Importer to Indo-Pacific Clean Energy Hub

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Hawaii is making waves with its ambitious energy transition strategy. In 2008, it became the first US state to adopt a 100% clean energy target,[1] and in 2017, the first to adopt the Paris Agreement,[2] now mainstays of its growing reputation as a global leader on climate action. This strategy is a move toward energy security as much as it is a statement against carbon emissions. The state has long been highly dependent on imported oil, doubly vulnerable to global price shocks due to a grid largely sustained by oil-fired power plants. While this is common across island economies, the state is rapidly building out renewable energy capacity to reduce this reliance. Through policy adjustments and synergistic partnerships that leverage its unique location, Hawaii can accelerate its transition toward energy security, and with the right investments, lay the groundwork for becoming a clean energy technology innovator and even an exporter to the Indo-Pacific.

Examining Imports & Shoring Up Near-Term Energy Security

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rocked the world’s perceptions of security, and even the distant Hawaiian Islands have not escaped its shockwaves. From 2017 through 2021, local utility buyers like the Par Pacific refinery in Kapolei were regular customers of Russian oil companies, purchasing several thousands of barrels per year to cover approximately 30-40% of the state’s energy needs.[3] The summer prior to the invasion, Jeff Mikulina, executive director for the Blue Planet Foundation, a leading Honolulu-based climate advocacy group, expressed how we were “fostering corrupt regimes” by “sending our hard-earned dollars to those countries when we have alternatives.”[4] Since President Biden’s nationwide ban on Russian energy imports a few weeks into the war,[5] the gap has been filled mostly by Libyan and Argentinian oil.[6]

With the closing of Hawaii’s final coal plant last September, Oahu Island has become even more dependent on its oil-fired plants to supply firm power. The Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) originally planned for the coal plant’s replacement with a giant battery project to be charged with renewable energy. However, due to significant delays in the buildout of solar and wind projects, the battery will have to be charged by oil-fired plants burning overtime to prevent grid blackouts. Public Utilities Commissioner Chair Jay Griffin torched HECO for its “lack of urgency and foresight,” likening the jump from coal to greater oil reliance as going from “cigarettes to crack.”[7]

In light of these developments and with coal out of the picture (as mandated by Hawaii Senate Bill 2629 HD1),[8] the State needs to think strategically about the entities it supports and relies on for petroleum. Energy supply sources should be a highly visible subject of public deliberation since it is such a foundational block for an import-based island economy. The simple answer to aligning Hawaii’s oil purchase dollars with its long-term interests while strengthening energy security would be to source from the mainland. Today, the US is the world’s largest oil producer, thanks to advances during the 2000’s in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”[9]

Why doesn’t Hawaii source from companies operating in the Permian Basin in Texas or the Bakken Formation in North Dakota? According to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, one answer is transportation costs, although it is not necessarily the cost of oil production but the cost of transportation, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii argues.[10] An antiquated federal law known as the Jones Act obstructs Hawaii from taking advantage of being part of a larger union. Implemented in 1920, it requires that “all cargo transported between US ports be on ships that are US flagged, built and mostly owned and crewed by Americans.”[11] While this protects local shippers like Matson and Pasha Hawaii, it makes domestic energy shipments prohibitively expensive –raising living costs for residents.

US Representative from Hawaii Ed Case recently petitioned the Biden administration for a waiver from the Jones Act.[12] Absent receiving a groundbreaking allowance on this front, Hawaii’s next best option is to identify and build up partnerships with supplier nations that would add the least liability to its energy security dilemma. As a start, the State Public Utilities Commission could create a suppliers index in consultation with the US Departments of Energy, State, and Homeland Security reviewing traits such as geographic proximity, geopolitical risk, and shared strategic interests with the US. Rather than letting purchase orders flow to the marginally cheapest barrel of oil from autocratic petrostates as they currently do, the State can recalibrate to align for security and other priorities. Some communities have the luxury of relying entirely on global markets for oil. Hawaii should not be one of them.

Accelerating Local Renewable Energy Development with Policy and Partnerships

For thousands of years, the Hawaiian communities tapped into all that ‘Āina and Kai provided, free from reliance on imports and foreign interests. Hawaii remains blessed and surrounded by an abundance of harnessable renewable energies that could allow it to return to an ideal level of self-sufficiency once again. Reviewing our dependence on imported oil can alleviate energy security concerns in the short term, but improving the situation over the long term is best addressed by ensuring the State’s current mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) targets of 40% clean energy by 2030, and 100% by 2045,[13] are met or surpassed by utilizing the full suite of technologies available. Doing so facilitates progress towards several converging aims, like mitigating climate change, developing energy independence, and building environmental resilience. It also allows Hawaii to align its actions with its values, and lead the Pacific Islands and the United States in doing so as well.

How could Hawaii accelerate the buildout of a fossil-fuel independent grid? Distributed photovoltaics (rooftop PV) have undoubtedly been a key success up to this point. Supported by federal, state, and local-level incentives for installation, Hawaii has led the nation in rooftop PV adoption and it represents the largest share of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.[14] Utility-scale “solar farm” and “wind farm” projects have also been important drivers in clean energy adoption, but have encountered greater setbacks. While rooftop PV dual-purposes space that is already in residential or commercial use, industrial scale solar farms and wind farms require a great deal of land in comparison. On space-constrained islands where there may be many competing interests connected to the same parcel of land, this can lead to higher development costs, popular protests, and legal challenges stemming from residential groups, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, or military or commercial interests. In recent years, lawsuits reached the Hawaii Supreme Court over the externalities caused by the Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku[15] and the Paeahu solar plant on Haleakala.[16]

Rather than further strain land resources by betting fully on utility-scale solar and wind, Hawaii should aim for an eventual diversified mix of energy sources that also harnesses natural resources in the form of wave energy, tidal energy, and ocean thermal energy conversion.[17] The path towards economic viability and scale in these technologies has not yet been developed, but they could become a larger part of the local energy mix in the future. With hydropower from rivers currently comprising the world’s largest component of clean energy, power generation from oceans is regarded as an underutilized resource with enormous potential. A 21st-century understanding of indigenous methodologies and knowledge systems (Kanaka ‘Ōiwi Mo‘olelo), implies that this direction may lead our state to a truly renewable future.[18]

An engaged community that is invested over the long term will be critical to optimizing the rapid buildout of Hawaii’s energy independence. To enable new growth and a redirection of our economy, strong leadership and incorporation of diverse partnerships at scale are needed for job creation and climate justice. Better relations with federal entities like the Department of Energy and strategic international partners like Canada and Japan can further the progress of innovative energy infrastructures. The pursuit of external collaborations to develop green technologies can help shift our economy away from an overdependence on tourism while expanding high-value opportunities for broader engagement with international markets and further development into a world-class alternative energies sector.

One of the most underutilized renewable energy resources in Hawaii is geothermal.[19] Puna Geothermal Ventures’ facilities on the island of Hawaii is the state’s only geothermal energy conversion plant.[20] The 38-megawatt facility provides approximately 30% of the island’s energy needs.[21] According to studies from the Hawaii State Energy Office in 2016, the amount of megawatts of geothermal reserves on Maui and the Hawaii Island would be sufficient to power Maui, Hawaii, and 60% of Oahu’s energy needs.[22] According to Hawaii State Senator Chris Lee, former House chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, geothermal is “safe, it’s reliable and it’s available in quantity.”[23] With modern geothermal power production, there’s a possibility Hawaiian Electric will move forward with their Power Supply Improvement Plan, which “forecasts 40 MW of new geothermal development on Maui by 2040 and an additional 40 MW of geothermal on Hawaii Island by 2030.”[24] The current Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) Repower Project coincides with Hawaiian Electric’s aim. Phase 1 will increase power production of the geothermal power plant in the Puna District from 38 to 46 MW and Phase 2 will further increase production to 60 MW.[25] State Senator Donovan Dela Cruz said, “the more we can scale up firm renewables, then the cost efficiency also increases.”[26] Once we are energy independent through the buildout of long-term inexpensive renewable energy systems, we can look toward building a hydrogen export industry.

Positioning Hawaii as a Clean Energy Technology Hub in the Indo-Pacific

Co-designed by dozens of collaborating public and private organizations, the Hawai‘i Pacific Hydrogen Hub is another potential component to achieving decarbonization goals by maximizing synergies with a renewable energy-driven economy.[27] [28] Earlier this year, the state submitted an application to bring in up to $1 billion of federal and private investments for the development of a hydrogen production hub (H2Hub) as part of the US Department of Energy’s broader plan to create regional green hydrogen networks. Green hydrogen could be the final piece to reach the State of Hawai‘i bold energy agenda’s crown achievement of 100% clean energy by the year 2045.[29] As stated by Governor Josh Green in his State of the State Address, this emerging clean fuel industry would position Hawaiʻi to “achieve long-term reductions in energy prices and emissions more than any other state” while also underpinning “national security objectives by providing energy security for Hawaiʻi and our strategic Pacific partners.”[30]

A hydrogen ecosystem centered around the H2Hub holds promise for decarbonizing Hawaii’s transportation sector while generating a portfolio of adjacent and downstream secondary industries. The new access to affordable and accessible energy will drastically affect working families, household energy costs, and critical transportation costs associated with living on an island in the center of the Pacific. The integration of green hydrogen energy technology into Hawaii’s infrastructure will help stabilize the Pacific’s energy resilience initiatives, defense infrastructure, cultural collaboration, and reduce dependence on fossil-based energy sources.

Our central geographic position would enable us to share this technology with countries in the Asia Pacific that have expressed interest alternative fuels like hydrogen to meet their net zero goals. The development of Pacific-centric green energy markets would result in stronger strategic relations. The shift to a clean energy market in Hawaii will bring about greater security, more competitive business, leadership and technology development, and net-zero emissions. Despite the political adjustments and infrastructural challenges that will no doubt continue to arise during this clean energy transition, Hawaii is in the process of becoming a regional clean energy technology innovator, and will be well-positioned to lead the Pacific into a more climate-friendly future.

Looking to the Future

As a Pacific Island, our communities understand that the environment is directly tied to our well-being as a people and society. A focus on low carbon technology is essential to the sustainability of the State of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Islands region. The intersection of a changing climate with Hawaii’s economy, the State’s emission goals, military priorities, and environmental equity and justice will demand a multi-agency and interdisciplinary approach to develop a comprehensive, resilient and realistic clean energy future for our state.

Hawaiʻi is positioned to represent itself as an energy-sovereign society, but also remain an international collaborator. The unique position Hawaiʻi maintains in the Pacific Theatre cannot be overstated. Situated between the largest economies in the world, Hawaiʻi’s role in ensuring a secure, sustainable, and economically robust global market could extend beyond the Asia-Pacific. The constant push by foreign powers to control materials, supply chains, and modes of transportation only strengthens the argument to develop Hawaiʻi’s self-sustaining energy economy. It is time to transition from a reliance on fossil fuels to a future as an innovator, collaborator, and independent leader as an Indo-Pacific Clean Energy Technology Hub.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Brandt Mabuni is a resident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum. Currently studying critical minerals in solar and nuclear supply chains, his research interests center at the confluence of energy policy, climate finance, and geoeconomic trends.

Robert Parke is a master’s student in communication at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. His research interests include climate change and disaster resilience, resource and economic development, peace and security, inequalities in technological developments, and ocean and natural environment management.

[1] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative,” accessed Apr. 7, 2023, https://energy.hawaii.gov/hawaii-clean-energy-initiative/

[2] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Hawaii Becomes First State to Enact Law That Aligns with Paris Agreement,” Jun. 7, 2017, https://unfccc.int/news/hawaii-becomes-first-state-to-enact-law-that-aligns-with-paris-agreement

[3] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Publications & Reports: 2017-2021,” accessed Apr. 5, 2023, https://energy.hawaii.gov/information-center/publications-and-reports/

[4] Emily Burr, “Half of Foreign Oil for Hawaii Comes from Russia and Libya,” HawaiiBusiness Magazine, Jun. 22, 2021, https://www.hawaiibusiness.com/half-of-foreign-oil-for-hawaii-comes-from-russia-and-libya/

[5] The White House, “Fact Sheet: US Bans Imports of Russian Oil, Liquefied Natural Gas, and Coal” Mar. 8, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/08/fact-sheet-united-states-bans-imports-of- russian-oil-liquefied-natural-gas-and-coal/

[6] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Non-Renewable Energy Sources,” accessed Apr. 5, 2023 https://energy.hawaii.gov/what-we-do/energy-landscape/non-renewable-energy-sources/

[7] Brian McInnes, “AES scrambles to find power as it shuts down the last coal plant in Hawaii,” Pacific Business News, Mar. 23, 2021, https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2021/03/23/aes-coal-plant-scramble.html

[8] Hawaii State Legislature, “Senate Bill 2629 HD1,” Jun. 30, 2020,  https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/sessions/session2020/bills/SB2629_HD1_.htm

[9] US Energy Information Administration, “FAQs,” May 1, 2023, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=709&t=6

[10] Jonathan Helton, “Hawaii Needs Jones Act Waiver for Oil Imports” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Feb. 22, 2022, https://www.grassrootinstitute.org/2022/02/hawaii-needs-jones-act-waiver-for-oil-imports/

[11] Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, “Jones Act,” accessed Mar. 15, 2023, https://www.grassrootinstitute.org/jonesact/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwj_ajBhCqARIsAA37s0yOVXDqKbvfgquMhhnLr4Tg t9TQunRsczJSy5jaqUKV1-sFhBObH38aAoSmEALw_wcB

[12] Charlie Papavizas, “Waiving the Jones Act for Hawaii Crude Oil Imports,” Winston & Strawn LLP, Mar. 4, 2022, https://www.winston.com/en/maritime-fedwatch/waiving-the-jones-act-for-hawaii-crude-oil-imports.html

[13] Hawaii State Public Utilities Commission, “Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) 2018 Legislative Report,” Dec. 2018,  https://puc.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/RPS-2018-Legislative-Report_FINAL.pdf

[14] Makena Coffman, Scott Allen, and Sherilyn Wee, “Determinants of Residential Solar Photovoltaic Adoption,” The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii (UHERO), Feb. 7, 2018 https://uhero.hawaii.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/WP_2018-1.pdf

[15] Blaze Lovell, “Kahuku Wind Farm Case Goes Before Hawaii Supreme Court,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Apr. 1, 2021, https://www.civilbeat.org/2021/04/kahuku-wind-farm-case-goes-before-hawaii-supreme-court/

[16] Anne Fischer, “Hawaii Supreme Court upholds PUC’s approval of power purchase agreement.” PV Magazine, Mar. 16, 2022, https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2022/03/16/hawaii-supreme-court-upholds-pucs-approval-of-power-purchase-agreement/

[17] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Technology,” accessed Apr. 20, 2023, https://coast.noaa.gov/data/czm/media/technicalfactsheet.pdf

[18] Katrina-Ann Kapā‘anaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira and Erin Kahunawaika‘ala Wright, Kanaka Oiwi Methodologies: Mo’olelo and Metaphor, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2016), Life-Sustaining Water of Kanaka Knowledge (pp. 72-85).

[19] Star Advertiser Editorial Board, “Letter: Expand geothermal energy in Hawaii,” Star Advertiser, Apr. 2, 2023,  https://www.staradvertiser.com/2023/04/02/editorial/letters/letter-expand-geothermal-energy-in-hawaii/

[20] Hawaiian Electric, “Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV),” accessed May 7, 2023, https://www.hawaiianelectric.com/clean-energy-hawaii/our-clean-energy-portfolio/renewable-energy-sources/geothe rmal/puna-geothermal-venture-(pgv)

[21] US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Hawaii Geothermal Area,”accessed May 7, 2023, https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/hawaii-geothermal-area

[22] Alice Kim,“Geothermal energy a ‘no brainer’ for Hawaii,” Hawaii Groundwater and Geothermal Resources Center, University of Hawaii, Dec. 8, 2018, https://www.higp.hawaii.edu/hggrc/geothermal-energy-a-no-brainer-for-hawaii/

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Carlo Cariaga, “Puna geothermal site in Hawaii to expand capacity with Repower project,” Think GeoEnergy, Jul. 25, 2022, https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/puna-geothermal-site-in-hawaii-to-expand-capacity-with-repower-project/

[26] Hawaii News Now staff, “5 years after lava nearly destroyed it, Puna Geothermal announces expansion plans” Hawaii News Now, May 8, 2023, https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2023/05/09/5-years-after-lava-nearly-destroyed-it-puna-geothermal-announces-ex pansion-plans/

[27] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Integrated Hawaii Pacific Hydrogen Hub Completes Full Application for Federal Funding,” Apr. 11, 2023, https://energy.hawaii.gov/integrated-hawaii-pacific-hydrogen-hub-completes-full-application-for-federal-funding/

[28] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Hawaii Pacific Hydrogen Hub Proposal Encouraged to Submit Full Application,” Jan. 5, 2023, https://energy.hawaii.gov/hawaii-pacific-hydrogen-hub-proposal-encouraged-to-submit-full-application/

[29] Hawaii State Energy Office, “Decarbonization,” accessed May 7. 2023, https://energy.hawaii.gov/

[30] Josh Green, “State of the State Address 2023,” Office of the Governor of Hawaii, Jan. 20, 2023, https://governor.hawaii.gov/main/state-of-the-state-address-2023/


YL Blog #50 – Expansion of the Hawaiʻi National Guard’s State Partnership Program to Combat Indonesia’s Food Insecurity

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Background: The State Partnership Program

The State Partnership Program Overview

Since 1992, the United States Department of Defense’s (DoD) State Partnership Program (SPP) has served as one of the cornerstones for building and sustaining 88 meaningful partnerships around the world that share values for common prosperity.[1] Using partnerships between state-level National Guard Bureau (NGB) units and militaries of sovereign nations in each region of the world, the SPP facilitates security cooperation and addresses regional issues across a multitude of civil-military domains. Engagements in the program include subject matter expert exchanges, capability familiarizations, joint drills, and senior leader visits.[2]

Through the SPP, the NGB supports national defense and security goals while also building whole-of-society partnerships to further regional security and stability.[3] The SPP exists to improve the capabilities of partner nations and protect their citizens; strengthen relationships with partners to facilitate cooperation, access, and interoperability; improve cultural awareness and skills among United States military personnel; and foster the integration of reserve and active component forces into a “total force.”[4]

The NGB initiatives are not limited to military engagements alone. They include support for economic, diplomatic, and social programs that are designed to alleviate localized partner challenges indicating potential for civil-military incorporation. Notably, the SPP uses the National Guard’s competencies in humanitarian, crisis response, and disaster relief missions to further security cooperation and enhance stability in foreign counterparts. In the Indo-Pacific, this yields significant potential to strengthen the U.S.’s ties with foreign governments and better position itself to respond to conflict in the region.[5][6]

As of 2023, the NGB has partnered with Indo-Pacific countries of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Vietnam with Hawaii as the partner of the Philippines and Indonesia.[7] In particular, the Hawaiian National Guard’s partnership with Indonesia represents an example of the program’s success in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2006, the U.S. has used the SPP to foster deep and long-lasting relationships with the vital Pacific nation. A major aspect of the partnership is Gema Bhakti, a decade-old annual exercise where Soldiers from both countries meet to share best practices and display capabilities for bilateral benefit.[8]

The Opportunity for State Partnership Program Expansion

The United States Government demonstrates its intent to maintain and expand its global posture in the Indo-Pacific Region to counter the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) direct attempts to alter global order in its favor. In the 2022 National Defense Strategy and the 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy, the DoD argues that the PRC is working to undermine U.S. partnerships with Indo-Pacific states, not just militarily, but in diplomatic, technological, and economic spheres as well. As a result of this heightened aggression, the United States’ strategy involves a diversified expansion of its global posture.

The methods proposed to accomplish this goal extend beyond the usual military approaches, such as interoperability, capabilities sharing, and force projection. In combination with those efforts, the DoD plans to leverage collaboration in key infrastructure investments, economics, intelligence sharing, health, technology, climate change, and diplomatic outreach. The SPP can supplement recent efforts by the Biden Administration by developing pre-existing military-to-military ties to achieve foreign policy goals, in addition to strategic military objectives. As these engagements become common practice and mature in sophistication and outreach, they have the potential to further incorporate military-to-civilian channels and offer opportunities for civilian-to-civilian and business-to-business partnerships between countries.

As a pre-existing channel for the U.S. to strengthen ties with Indo-Pacific partners, the SPP can act as a conduit for partnership expansion in the region. As National Guardsmen are employed domestically for disaster relief, emergency management, and humanitarian missions, they inherently carry expertise and equipment which lends well to solving similar crises in partner countries.

Countries that face the risks of natural disasters, are in the process of economic development, or experience internal conflicts will benefit greatly from these effects. The security of these countries is, by default, systematically vulnerable because of their propensity to these disasters and conflict. By taking a proactive approach to address these issues, the United States can foster increased collaboration with its partners while simultaneously reducing the need for future humanitarian responses.

Further, these efforts will complement the ongoing work of key organizations such as the United States Department of State (DOS), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in achieving their goals and objectives. According to estimates from the USDA, approximately 11% of American agricultural producers either serve in the military in a reserve capacity or have a military service background.[9] These producers contribute significantly to the agricultural industry, accounting for $41 billion in agricultural sales.[10] Moreover, 17% of all farms have a producer who is currently serving or has served in the U.S. Armed Forces.[11] The USDA recognizes the valuable experience and skills that military personnel bring to the field of agriculture and has implemented specialized programs to integrate military experience with careers in farming. These programs provide access to capital, land, education, and training resources, as well as business planning support.

Similarly, USAID maintains a strong collaborative relationship with the DoD, ensuring that their development and defense efforts mutually reinforce each other and help partner countries achieve outcomes aligned with U.S. national security goals and partner values. Through coordination with the DoD, USAID brings together a diverse team of foreign service, civil service, military, and technical professionals.[12] USAID also hosts military liaisons from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as sponsors U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps fellows to support environmental reform initiatives that have an impact on agriculture.[13] These joint efforts allow for equitable collaboration on policy, planning, outreach, and education, with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations currently serving as the primary focus of the USAID-DoD partnership.[14]

Therefore, it is important to note that, by leveraging the SPP, interagency partners across a broad whole-of-government spectrum can incorporate and facilitate proactive disaster relief and humanitarian response to assist developing countries. This is possible through a consolidated effort, thereby promoting economic growth, enhancing regional security, and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Case Study: Indonesia’s Food Insecurity

Indonesian Food Security Issues

Indonesia plays a vital role in maintaining stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and it is a key partner to the United States. Indonesia is the fourth largest country by population and engages in an annual $30 billion in trade with the U.S.[15] With a $100 million yearly budget for Indonesia, USAID leads several programs aimed to improve the country in terms of democratic governance, anti-corruption, climate and the environment, economic growth, education, and health.[16] The relationship between the two countries showcases strong engagement and cooperation, particularly in the security domain. The United States holds a prominent position as Indonesia’s largest security partner, with estimated pre-COVID engagements exceeding 200 annually.[17] The engagements between the United States and Indonesia encompass a wide range of activities, but the most prominent are military exercises.[18] These highlight the depth and breadth of the partnership and the United States’ commitment to supporting Indonesia’s security and sovereignty in the region.

Domestically, however, Indonesia faces significant challenges in achieving a sustainable food-secure environment; the Global Food Security Index places Indonesia at 63 out of 113 countries worldwide.[19]      Indonesia recognizes this issue as its primary human security concern and has worked diligently to address domestic food security. Currently, the Widodo administration’s focus on food security is inward-looking and centered on food distribution and increasing rice production.[20] However, the Indonesian agriculture industry as a whole faces inefficiency of scale and is unable to uphold the pillars of food security i.e., availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability.[21] Major barriers to establishing a sustainable food-secure environment in Indonesia are limited infrastructure, little access to educational resources, conflicts involving water rights, natural disasters, risk mitigation for crop preservation, and land security.[22] Without resources and strategies to address the aforementioned challenges, Indonesia struggles as a food-insecure country and is unable to ensure a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector.

State of Hawaii and Food Security

Hawaii has struggled with its own food security concerns in the past and continues to import 80% of its food.[23] This heavy reliance on external sources leaves Hawaii vulnerable to food availability concerns in the event of disruptions in the food supply chain, such as natural disasters or pandemics. Recognizing these vulnerabilities, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has identified logistics, education, environmental protection, and critical infrastructure as key areas that enable an archipelagic state to remain in a food-secure status.[24] To further mitigate the effects of food insecurity, Hawaii leverages the logistical competencies and environmental policies set forth by the Hawaii NGB through successful civil-military integration efforts.[25]

The Hawaii Army National Guard Environmental Office is a major proponent and subject matter expert for policy, technical means, and guidance on environmental stewardship for the State of Hawaii.[26] The State Adjutant General’s environmental policy focuses on conservation, compliance, land management, and sustainability.[27] The NGB performs endangered and native species protection, pest management, pollution prevention, waste stream diversions, green purchasing, and sustainable operations that employ water conservation, and fuel and energy efficiency.[28] [29] Examples that showcase the NGB’s environmental policies include a cost and resource-effective goat and sheep grazing technique for pest management, which slashed the use of herbicides to safeguard agricultural land from adverse chemical impacts. [30] Another example is a sustainability program that focuses on waste stream reduction and recycling activities that are programmed as project goals.[31] This program also conducts stormwater management, integrates natural resources management, builds safe drinking water plants, supports emergency management operations, and aids in energy conservation.[32]

The NGB showcases logistical expertise in key areas that affect agriculture and food supply. These include the acquisition of agricultural raw materials, tracking and distribution of food resources, farm asset management, fuel supply in rural areas, and forward deployment of survival equipment.[33] Additionally, during critical times of need, such as natural disasters or health emergencies, the NGB coordinates and delivers aid to communities regionally. The NGB logisticians are skilled above and beyond conventional military force parameters as they are industry experts with specialized military training. Their individualized skills include supply chain management, food services, petroleum systems management, airdrop and rigging specialties, water treatment proficiency, and laboratory proficiency.[34] Therefore, the NGB can impact dimensions of food security that promote availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability. By sharing the State of Hawaii’s environmental policies and logistical performance with partners in developing countries, food insecurity and hunger can be alleviated in similar archipelagic nations throughout Indo-Pacific.[35]

The Indonesian Military’s Efforts to Address Food Security

The Indonesian Armed Forces, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), plays a supervisory role in local villages and agricultural communities, working in alignment with Indonesia’s agricultural development agenda.[36] However, corruption within civil enterprises, stigma against civil-military integration, and the TNI’s history of human rights abuses have tarnished the reputation of the military as an agent of positive change.[37] Further, Indonesia’s food security challenges stem, in part, from internal inefficiencies and the lack of robust agricultural policy. Limited distribution and diversification of resources hinder the government’s ability to increase agricultural yield, failing to effectively address agricultural production challenges. Addressing these challenges to improve food security in Indonesia requires comprehensive strategies and the allocation of adequate resources.

Indonesia recognizes the inseparable relationship between food sovereignty, security, and national stability. Jakarta acknowledges the successful utilization of military operations other than war, particularly in Indo-Pacific states like Hawaii, where infrastructure and logistical elements of their armed forces have bolstered their civilian sectors, like agriculture.[38] Since the 1960s, the TNI has attempted to safeguard the agricultural industry, collaborating with the U.S. on initiatives, such as the Green Revolution project.[39] Consequently, food security has become a significant aspect of national defense, making it a key focus for the Indonesian military.[40] Tasked with ensuring regional stability, the TNI’s mission extends to the agricultural domain and supporting national food security. However, despite fifty years of dedicated efforts, plagued by logistical inefficiencies and implementation challenges, the intended results of achieving food security remain elusive, and the issue of food insecurity persists.[41]

According to Indonesian National Defense Law No. 34 of 2004, the army is authorized to undertake defense responsibilities on land.[42] In 2015, the president granted the TNI an active role in advising and assisting farmers by providing insights on best agricultural practices and infrastructure development. This agreement serves as the legal foundation for the TNI’s ongoing civil-military integration efforts, which take the form of a territorial coaching system aimed at addressing food insecurity. Through this program, TNI soldiers procure and distribute high-yield seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides and develop irrigation infrastructure to support farmers.[43] However, due to paradigmatic misconception of food security and food sovereignty, Jakarta has invested in improper policy which disproportionately focuses on agricultural production versus trade.[44] This policy is currently being implemented by the TNI. Additionally, collaboration with Western technology partners, similar to the Green Revolution project, is a significant component of this strategy, introducing genetically enhanced farming aids to Indonesia. Consequently, this increased reliance on foreign companies contributes to Indonesia’s foreign debt and undermines the authority of local villages. Overall, the current strategy inefficiently diverts financial benefits away from the farmers. The desired goal of grassroots self-sufficiency remains unachieved, with the current approach primarily benefiting large-scale landowners.

Despite widespread corruption, the TNI enjoys acceptance in Indonesia as an organization guided by professional values and considers the promotion of food security as one of its primary contributions to national security. Nonetheless, it faces significant challenges in integrating with the civilian sector and meeting the standards set by the Ministry of Agriculture. While the TNI focuses on educating and facilitating farmers to achieve self-sufficiency, an essential logistical aspect i.e., distribution to enable trade for commodities, remains absent from Indonesia’s strategy. Although the Green Revolution briefly enabled Indonesia to be self-sufficient in food imports in the late 1980s,[45] the lack of proper transport mechanisms quickly strained its ability to access food markets, leading to financial challenges.

Potential for Military-to-Civilian Application: Past Examples

The SPP has demonstrated its potential to aid partners through real-world response situations and joint exercises. Notable examples below highlight the effectiveness of the SPP in providing critical support during times of crisis:

In September 2014, the Guam and Hawaii National Guard collaborated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to respond to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. This humanitarian disaster claimed the lives of over six thousand people and displaced many more. The SPP between the United States and the Philippines, established in 2001 and one of the most active partnerships within the National Guard, had already laid the foundation for civil-military assistance through numerous exercises and events over the course of a decade. When Typhoon Haiyan struck, the coordination and efficiency achieved through the SPP proved invaluable in providing aid to a nation in desperate need of basic necessities, such as food, water, and shelter.[46] The level of coordination required in responding to a natural disaster mirrors the challenges associated with addressing food security.

In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to a major food availability crisis, the Ohio National Guard mobilized four hundred soldiers to support regional food banks and warehouses, serving residents in eighty-eight counties across the state. The pandemic had caused economic uncertainty and severely affected the ability of families and individuals across the United States to afford and access food.[47] This logistical support demonstrates the NGB’s commitment to ensuring that necessities, including food and water, are available to those in need.

In September 2022, the United States Military and the TNI conducted the tenth annual joint operational-level staff exercise called Gema Bhakti in Jakarta, Indonesia. Gema Bhakti is aimed at promoting positive military relations, enhancing security and stability in the region, increasing cultural awareness, and improving command and control proficiency among forces. This exercise brought together over a hundred military and interagency personnel from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Hawaii National Guard, along with TNI operators and a diverse cohort of non-governmental agencies.[48] This collaborative exercise showcases the successful integration and interoperability between Indonesia and the State of Hawaii, highlighting their joint commitment to effective operations in the security domain.

The SPP’s Potential to Enhance Food Security in Indonesia

These examples demonstrate how the SPP can play a significant role in bolstering the logistical capabilities of Indonesia’s agriculture industry. Through joint exercises, disaster response, and coordinated efforts, the SPP can empower the TNI and, in turn, impact the agricultural industry to enhance production and trade, ultimately alleviating food security challenges in an equitable manner. Logistics is another crucial problem to solve, not only for military operations, but also for the agricultural sector. A successful logistical strategy is essential to ensure the smooth and efficient flow of agricultural goods and services from producers to consumers.[49] This involves data-driven decisions on production, procurement, storage, transportation, and distribution.[50] Effective supervision of these activities is vital to meet the demands of Indonesia’s food-insecure populace and address the challenges related to production and trade. Furthermore, reducing agricultural losses resulting from inefficiencies and promoting environmentally conscious agricultural policies are equally important objectives. By achieving these goals, the Indonesian agricultural industry can contribute to food security and sustainability.

The SPP serves as a valuable platform for sharing logistical knowledge, enhancing coordination, and building capacity in combatting food insecurity to promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Through collaborative efforts facilitated by the SPP, the State of Hawaii and Indonesia can leverage their shared expertise and resources to strengthen food security and ensure the availability of basic necessities during times of crisis and peace alike. By working together, they can create value and address the needed competencies to support Indonesia’s agriculture industry and overall well-being.

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

The SPP is a valuable platform for the United States to deepen its ties with Indo-Pacific partners, enhance security capacity, and reduce dependence on the PRC. The NGB’s capabilities in disaster relief, emergency management, and humanitarian missions, combined with the SPP’s military-to-military connections, allow for effective collaboration and the transfer of expertise to address crises in partner countries. This strengthens regional stability, fosters stronger relationships, and contributes to a more resilient and self-reliant network of allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Hawaii-Indonesian partnership serves as an excellent case study to prove the viability of SPP expansion to achieve these goals. The utilization of the SPP to address food insecurity in Indonesia will prove to be an effective tool to enhance the U.S.’s presence in the Indo-Pacific region in a role that transcends conventional military engagements. To effectively harness the potential of the SPP to address food insecurity in Indonesia, the United States and Indonesia must collaborate and establish a comprehensive policy that involves a whole-of-government commitment and outlines appropriate actions and a national plan.

To achieve this, the TNI should work in tandem and specifically engage with the Hawaii National Guard on environmental policy. The Hawaii National Guard should also guide the TNI in adopting and promoting human-centric, economically viable, and sustainable farming practices. This collaboration would facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills necessary for Indonesia to enhance its agricultural sector. Furthermore, the cooperative infrastructure mechanisms established by the SPP can enable the United States to assist Indonesia in other areas that build security capacity such as technology, transportation, and distribution networks. By creating a viable trading network, supported by the provision of technology and transportation infrastructure, food loss can be minimized, and Indonesia can establish an independent agricultural commodities exchange. These effects would all contribute to the stability and security of the food supply chain in the region.

Additionally, through the industrialization of data collection and analysis facilitated by the NGB, technology and information transfers can greatly benefit the Indonesian agriculture sector.[51] This would enable the implementation of a national-level review process, allowing for the evaluation and improvement of agricultural practices across the country.[52] By fostering a collaborative approach guided by a comprehensive policy and the expertise of the NGB and Hawaii National Guard, the SPP can serve as a catalyst for resolving Indonesia’s food insecurity. Through the adoption of sustainable farming practices, establishment of viable logistical support, and utilization of technology and data analysis, Indonesia can enhance its agricultural capabilities and achieve greater food security.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the United States Army, United States Air Force, or United States Government.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Sharoon Kashif is an Air Force intelligence officer who serves as a South Asia subject matter expert for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. He is also an alumnus of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and has brought his diverse experience at the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations Asia Conference in both 2022 and 2023. 

Caleb Workman is an Officer in the United States Army. He  graduated from the Colorado School of Mines,  where  he  earned  a  BS  in  economics,  an  MS  in  engineering  and  technology  management, and minors in global politics and military science.

[1] “State Partnership Program – The National Guard.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nationalguard.mil/leadership/joint-staff/j-5/international-affairs-division/state-partnership-program/.

[2] “The National Guard State Partnership Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress.” Congressional Research Service, August 15, 2011. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R41957/5.

[3] “State Partnership Program – The National Guard.”

[4] “The National Guard State Partnership Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress.” Congressional Research Service, August 15, 2011. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R41957/5.

[5] “The National Guard State Partnership Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress.”

[6] U.S. Department of Defense. “Building Partnerships Around the Globe.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Experience/Building-Partnerships-Around-the-Globe/.

[7] “Building Partnerships Around the Globe.”

[8]  National Guard. “Hawaii National Guard Joins Gema Bhakti with Partner Indonesia.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nationalguard.mil/News/State-Partnership-Program/Article/3153297/hawaii-national-guard-joins-gema-bhakti-with-partner-indonesia/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalguard.mil%2FNews%2FArticle%2F3153297%2Fhawaii-national-guard-joins-gema-bhakti-with-partner-indonesia%2F.

[9] National Agricultural Statistics Service. Producers with Military Service. ACH17-22, United States Department of Agriculture, Nov. 2020, https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2020/census-military-producers.pdf.

[10] Farmers with Military Service Are Unsung Heroes of American Ag. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2023/05/01/farmers-military-service-are-unsung-heroes-american-ag. Accessed 19 June 2023.

[11] National Agricultural Statistics Service. Producers with Military Service. ACH17-22, United States Department of Agriculture, Nov. 2020, https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2020/census-military-producers.pdf.

[12] “Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation | Stabilization and Transitions.” U.S. Agency for International Development, 1 Mar. 2023, https://www.usaid.gov/about-us/organization/military.

[13] “Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation | Stabilization and Transitions.” U.S. Agency for International Development, 1 Mar. 2023, https://www.usaid.gov/about-us/organization/military.

[14] “Agriculture and Food Security.” U.S. Agency for International Development, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.usaid.gov/agriculture-and-food-security.

[15] United States Trade Representative. “Indonesia.” Accessed July 20, 2023. http://ustr.gov/countries-regions/southeast-asia-pacific/indonesia.

[16] USAID. “Indonesia Country Profile,” n.d. https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/USAID%20Indonesia%20Profile%202023_2_0.pdf.

[17] US Department of State. “Integrated Country Strategy – Indonesia.” Integrated Country Strategies, March 31, 2022. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/ICS_EAP_Indonesia_Public.pdf.

[18] US Department of State, “Integrated Country Strategy – Indonesia.”

[19] Global Food Security Index (GFSI). “Global Food Security Index (GFSI),” February 7, 2023. https://impact.economist.com/sustainability/project/food-security-index.

[20] Canada, Asia Pacific Foundation of. “Indonesia’s Scheme to Ward Off Food Security Crisis Falls Short of Expectations.” Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Accessed July 20, 2023. https://www.asiapacific.ca/publication/indonesias-scheme-ward-food-security-crisis-falls-short.

[21] “Global Food Security Index (GFSI).”

[22] Rusmawati, Estiana, Djoni Hartono, and Adiwan Fahlan Aritenang. “Food Security in Indonesia: The Role of Social Capital.” Development Studies Research 10, no. 1 (December 31, 2023): 2169732. https://doi.org/10.1080/21665095.2023.2169732.

[23] Lyte, Brittany. “How Hawaii Squandered Its Food Security — And What It Will Take To Get It Back.” Honolulu Civil Beat, April 23, 2021. https://www.civilbeat.org/2021/04/how-hawaii-squandered-its-food-security-and-what-it-will-take-to-get-it-back/.

[24] “How Food Secure Are We If Natural Disaster Strikes? – Hawaii Sea Grant.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/how-food-secure-are-we-if-natural-disaster-strikes/.

[25] “Natural Resources: U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://home.army.mil/hawaii/index.php/garrison/dpw/natural-resources#qt0:0.

[26] “Hawaii Army National Guard Environmental Office.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://dod.hawaii.gov/env.

[27] Logan, Brigadier General Arthur J. “The Adjutant General’s Environmental Policy.” Hawaii Army National Guard, February 19, 2015. https://dod.hawaii.gov/env/files/2012/11/BGLogan_tag-policy.pdf.

[28] U.S. Army. “A Win-Win for Natural Resources, Hawaii Army National Guard in the Aloha State.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.army.mil/article/201548/a_win_win_for_natural_resources_hawaii_army_national_guard_in_the_aloha_state.

[29] Hawaii Army National Guard Environmental Mission. “Hawaii Army National Guard .” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://dod.hawaii.gov/env/our-work/.

[30] “FY16 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards.” Department of Defense, April 19, 2017. https://www.denix.osd.mil/awards/denix-files/sites/12/2017/04/2-Narrative_S-NII-HIARNG.pdf.

[31] “Hawaii Army National Guard – Accomplishments.”

[32] “Hawaii Army National Guard – Accomplishments.”

[33] Acquire Skills in Distribution. “Army National Guard.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nationalguard.com/careers/supply-and-logistics.

[34] “Army National Guard – Distribution Skills.”

[35] Subramaniam, Yogeeswari, Tajul Ariffin Masron, and Niaz Ahmad Mohd Naseem. “The Impact of Logistics on Four Dimensions of Food Security in Developing Countries.” Journal of the Knowledge Economy, October 4, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13132-022-01037-3.

[36] Napitupulu, Heri , Taufik Hidayat, Arry Bainus, and Windy Dermawan. “Food Securitization In Indonesia: The Involvement Of Indonesian Military In Food Security Program.” SPECIAL EDUCATION 2022 1, no. 43 (n.d.).

[37] Izadi, Roya. “State Security or Exploitation: A Theory of Military Involvement in the Economy.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 66, no. 4–5 (May 2022): 729–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/00220027211070574.

[38] Bainus, Arry , and Dina Yulianti. “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.” Central European Journal of International and Security Studies 12, no. 4 (n.d.): 309-324.

[39] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[40] Napitupulu et al., “Food Securitization In Indonesia: The Involvement Of Indonesian Military In Food Security Program.”

[41] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[42] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[43] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[44] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[45] Bainus and Yulianti, “Questioning the Paradigm of Indonesian Military Involvement in Agriculture.”

[46] National Guard. “Airmen and Soldiers from Guam and Hawaii Help Rebuild Philippines School.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nationalguard.mil/News/State-Partnership-Program/Article/576545/airmen-and-soldiers-from-guam-and-hawaii-help-rebuild-philippines-school/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalguard.mil%2FNews%2FArticle%2F576545%2Fairmen-and-soldiers-from-guam-and-hawaii-help-rebuild-philippines-school%2F.

[47] US Army “Ohio National Guard Assists with Mass Food Distribution.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.army.mil/article/235410/ohio_national_guard_assists_with_mass_food_distribution.

[48] National Guard. “Hawaii National Guard Joins Gema Bhakti with Partner Indonesia.” Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nationalguard.mil/News/State-Partnership-Program/Article/3153297/hawaii-national-guard-joins-gema-bhakti-with-partner-indonesia/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalguard.mil%2FNews%2FArticle%2F3153297%2Fhawaii-national-guard-joins-gema-bhakti-with-partner-indonesia%2F.

[49] Transportation Management Solutions. “The Role of Logistics Management in the Agricultural Industry | TMS,” June 1, 2020. https://www.tms-transportation.com/blogs/logistics-management-in-agriculture/.

[50] “The Role of Logistics Management in the Agricultural Industry | TMS.”

[51] Grebmer, Klaus von, Jill Bernstein, Nilam Prasai, Shazia Amin, Yisehac Yohannes, Olive Towey, Jennifer Thompson, Andrea Sonntag, Fraser Patterson, and David Nabarro. 2016 Global Hunger Index: Getting to Zero Hunger. Bonn, Washington, DC, Dublin: Welthungerhilfe ; IFPRI ; Concern Worldwide, 2016.

[52] Grebmer et al., 2016 Global Hunger Index.

YL Blog #49 – Pasifika Policy: Amplifying Hawaiʻi’s Diasporic Communities to Navigate U.S.-Pacific Engagement

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Covering over 63.8 million square miles and over 30% of the earth’s surface, it is no surprise that the Pacific is one of the most contested regions in the world. Hawaii’s diverse cultural makeup offers many unique advantages that can strengthen US alliances in the Pacific. As the state with the largest Pacific Island diaspora community along with its own cultural connections through language, culture, and migration, Hawaii has the potential to be at the forefront of progressive soft power policies. The term, “soft power” was coined by political scientist Joseph Nye and is defined as “the ability to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment”.[1] Nye associates this concept with intangible ‘power resources’ such as culture and ideology. In our research, we explore the concept of soft power within an indigenous framework.

In the case of China, political discourse regarding China’s engagement with PICs is largely focused on the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative but what is often overlooked is China’s investment in soft power resources such as language. To bolster the BRI and strengthen its diplomatic ties within the Pacific region, China is also encouraging more university students to study Pacific Island languages. At Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), widely regarded as one of the top schools in China for aspiring foreign diplomats, students are now offered language classes covering all Pacific Island countries (PICs) with which China has forged diplomatic ties such as Bislama, Fijian, Samoan, Tok Pisin, and Tongan.[2] China also launched the China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Change Cooperation Center in April of 2022 in Shandong Province of China and the following month stated that “China stands ready to work with PICs to further promote high-level exchanges, cement political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, and strengthen people-to-people ties so as to build a closer China-Pacific Island Countries community with a shared future”.[3]

While some researchers would argue that the Pacific Ocean is caught in a power struggle between China and the United States, we suggest an alternative framing. Although it is important to note China’s engagement in the region, we argue that the US should not be motivated by the sole focus of countering China. Instead, US engagement should be guided by culturally-informed frameworks within Oceania and empower people-to-people relationships with our Pacific neighbors and allies. The United States, through Hawaii’s leadership and use of human capital in diasporic communities, can create Indigenous-centered policies that stabilize US soft power in the Pacific region while also empowering US citizens in the diaspora through Indigenous language programs and cultural practices. Our recommendation is to build policies in the Pacific based upon culturally-established protocols within Oceania, emphasizing multilingualism in Hawaii’s diaspora, and incorporating more Pacific Islanders into foreign policymaking roles.

Indigenous Frameworks

Even with an abundance of different cultures and languages, there are several oral traditions and values that bind communities together in Oceania; a connection that transcends geopolitical borders which both differentiate and unify.[4] In order to create more effective policy in the Pacific and stabilize the region, the United States must restructure its rules of engagement in the region to more accurately reflect and build upon Pacific Islands culture and connections. The first shift needed in Pacific Island interaction is recognizing the power of the family unit. In Oceania, the family extends beyond that of a Western framework and refers more broadly to the village or clan that one belongs to, regardless of direct blood connections. The family is the central unit and is prioritized above all else. Creating a Pacific policy that acknowledges this pattern in Oceania and in the United States diaspora is the first step to centering Indigenous voices in the region. A common phrase in Tongan is “namu e toto” or “blood smells’”. While the direct translation may generate more questions than answers, the cultural context of this phrase sheds light on how Pacific Islanders build relationships and the transcendent nature of these connections. “Namu e toto” embodies the belief that familial ties are so strong that the blood between two individuals can sense an ancestral connection subconsciously; this subliminal connection acknowledged through one’s genetic makeup brings individuals together and helps establish a relationship between them before consciously recognizing or being informed of their shared ancestry.

The phrase “namu e toto” illustrates how familial relationships in Oceania are incredibly powerful and fundamental to establishing genealogical connections. These family ties in Oceania have direct social implications and expectations. An example of this is in “Tauhi vä: Nurturing Tongan Sociospatial Ties in Maui and Beyond” by anthropologist Tevita Ka’ili where he analyzes the process of diaspora and relationship building between Tongans in Tonga and in Maui. Ka’ili argues that tauhi vä, or the nourishing of the space between people, is fundamental to cultivating and retaining long-lasting relationships in Oceania.[5] Initially, this space is created through the conscious acknowledgment of familial connections, but over time is renewed and strengthened through cultural protocol and reciprocity.[6] Ka’ili’s research, when applied to the Pacific strategy, would suggest that Tongan identity, and arguably identity in greater Oceania, looks beyond geopolitical boundaries and seeks to create connections with family members to perpetuate culture and empower other members of the family unit. Utilizing these types of Indigenous frameworks and cultural knowledge, which are also deeply retained within the diaspora, can guide US strategy in the Pacific region. Pacific Islanders inside and outside of the United States diaspora look for opportunities to make these connections and are expected to prioritize them over other relationships.[7]

Another framework in which to prioritize an Indigenous framework in policy is in  Sa‘iliemanu Lilomaiava-Doktor’s “Beyond “Migration”: Samoan Population Movement (Malaga) and the Geography of Social Space (Va)”.[8] Lilomaiava-Doktor emphasizes the fundamental part of relationship building in Samoan communities is malaga (travel) and va (relationships between people or groups of people); in other words, a core principle in the community is traveling often and connecting with those you share relationships with and have obligations to. Regarding foreign policy in the Pacific, the United States’ first step is to more fully recognize the untapped potential of the Pacific Islander diaspora to operate in this cultural space to stabilize interactions in the third-island chain through intrapersonal connections.

Indigenizing Foreign Policy[9]

In many ways, the United States is trying to navigate Pacific engagement through Western frameworks and as reactions to Chinese advances in the region, but these strategies are not enough to foster long-term stability and security in the region; we argue that the US response to Oceania policy should be progressive rather than aggressive in order to create the most change. Not only that, but US policy in the Pacific should be reflective of the values of the community they are trying to reach. We title these efforts using Indigenous frameworks, ontologies, and voices, “Pasifika policy”. Pasifika is the Indigenized word for Pacific that was originally used to  refer to members of the Polynesian community living in New Zealand where the word was quickly adopted by the Polynesian community in the United States.[10]  However, Pasifika has now also adapted to reflect the multicultural communities in the United States expanding to include greater Oceania, to such places as Guam, the Solomon Islands, and more.[11] In recent years, Pacific Islander, or Pasifika, communities across the United States have fought for more recognition and are willing and able to engage with their family members in Oceania.[12] Increasing access to Oceania and incentivizing involvement in government agencies abroad for Pacific Islanders in diaspora will empower their individual communities and also strengthen political ties to the region as the Indigenous frameworks of Oceania emphasize direct family ties, ancestral connections, and cultural protocols. There have been a number of Pacific Islander scholars in recent years who advocate for the Indigenization of academic methods to better understand and interact with Pacific Islander communities; we are arguing the same for policy-making in the Pacific with the examples seen above with tauhi va, va, and malaga. While we recognize each island country and community has its own cultural values and customs, scholars recognize that there are a number of common themes woven into the fabric of Oceania. Simultaneously, we recognize that identity in diaspora in recent decades has become increasingly more inclusive and reflective of a pan-Pacific or a transnational identity.[13] Centering or “Indigenizing” US policy around these cultural frameworks is the beginning of a more effective and genuine level of engagement in the Pacific that promotes security while also empowering Indigenous people in diaspora and abroad. In conjunction with increased Pacific Islander representation and culturally informed policymaking, an emphasis on Indigenous language learning within the diaspora would prove to be far more advantageous and effective than port building and financial aid through an outsider party such as China or even the United States alone.

Pasifika policy can potentially be the United States’ competitive edge over China when it comes to projecting soft power in the Pacific region. While China has the money to build infrastructure projects, the United States through its diaspora communities has the natural connections through the historical flows of people from Pacific Islander countries to be able to have the human capital to have the ability to implement these kinds of progressive policies. There has been much literature and frameworks on countries such as India, China, and South Korea with significant diaspora populations across the world projecting their soft power to influence these diaspora communities as a form of foreign policy. However, there is a lack of research on the reverse effect of diaspora communities being empowered to take part in foreign policy of their ‘adopted’ country towards countries of ancestry and heritage. As US policymakers and informers become more aware of the potential soft power within Pasifika policy, lasting growth, and resilience will be made in US-Pacific engagement. A fundamental part of Pasifika policy implementation also implies increased government-funded opportunities for cultural learning and language revitalization within the diaspora and greater representation of Pacific Islanders in policymaking spaces. We argue that Hawaii, the state with the largest Pacific Islander diaspora community along with its own cultural connections with Oceania through language, culture, and migration should be at the forefront of this strength in these progressive soft power policies.

Multilingualism in Hawaii

Hawaii is considered by many to be a very multilingual and multicultural place. It is one of only two states within the U.S. to have another official language besides English, the other being Hawaiian. Over 25% of households in Hawaii speak a language other than English in the home. Hawaii is the ninth for the most number of speakers of languages other than English in the home. Despite the historical complexities surrounding Indigenous language practices, Saft (2019) explains quite clearly that multilingualism in Hawaii is quite widely spread despite the dominance of English, especially as Hawaii is a state and adheres to the same American education system, which gives prominence to English and “impacts the attitudes toward languages as well as decisions about which language(s) to use.[14] As a result of the U.S. annexation of the islands in the late 19th century and the rise of settlers from the U.S. Continentally, there were policies in place for Hawaii to assimilate into the U.S. and American education system, starting with the restrictions on the use and acquisition of the Hawaiian language in schools along with the segregation of schools in the early 20th century with the implementation of the English standard school system. Many of these policies led to almost a whole generation losing their mother tongue. However, as there became a continued rise in immigration along with tourism becoming the dominant industry in the state’s economy, other languages such as Japanese and Korean have come to more prominence as the number of tourist arrivals and investment increase in these countries and are increasingly taught within the schools and universities in the state.

In the past decade, there have been more initiatives and calls for the importance of language learning in Hawaii public schools. The Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) had initiatives such as the World Languages Program and the Multilingualism for Equitable Education Policy. Through the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Flagship Language Program, there has been a wider call for the value of multilingual and multicultural education in relation to Hawaii’s labor market and economy through long-term strategies of the Hawaii Language Roadmap Initiative. Although these initiatives to provide multilingual and multicultural education in Hawaii are strong steps in the right direction, when it comes to foreign policy and forging stronger ties with the Pacific Island region, more can certainly be done on the federal level. Despite this recognition of language revitalization for Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islander languages are not widely taught in Hawaii public schools and are not part of the HIDOE’s World Languages initiative despite over 25% of high school students identifying as Pacific Islander.[15] The first step to implementing Pasifika policy is by integrating language revitalization into schools and universities while also providing funding to Pacific Islanders from the United States diaspora. The importance of language is best embodied by an ‘ōlelo no’ eau: “i ka ‘ōlelo ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo ka make” meaning “in the language is life, in the language is death”. Pasifika frameworks demonstrate that if we prioritize language revitalization, we allow for diverse perspectives through which we can problem solve, providing Pacific Islanders in diaspora ways to connect with culture while also providing a competitive edge over Chinese influence in the region.

Language acquisition in the diaspora is fundamental to cultivating a source for future policymakers who are rooted in the Pacific and the United States but this is only one step towards incorporating Pasifika policy into current policymaking circles. Another crucial piece to consider is Pacific Islander representation in the policy sector. Pacific Islanders[16] are not as equally represented in politics like other demographics despite large populations of Pacific Islanders in Hawaii and other states bordering the Pacific.[17] Expanding Pacific Islander representation in these political spheres is an important step towards creating a community of policymakers that are reflective of the stakeholders and communities that the US is trying to reach. Additionally, careful consideration must be made to support the integration of these diverse voices while respecting their unique backgrounds and cultural protocols. By increasing Pacific Islander representation in policy making and cultivating a safe space for indigenous concepts and protocols to flourish we can thereby effectively engage with indigenous perspectives and problem-solving approaches.

Mutually Beneficial Relationship

In recent years, federal agencies such as the U.S. State Department have expended a  greater effort to create more educational and cultural platforms for engagement in Pacific Islander diaspora communities by promoting government-funded language programs, increased Pacific Islander scholarships and internship opportunities for students from high school students to PhD candidates, and the creation of University of Hawaii at Manoa’s newest Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs (CIPA).[18] But we argue there is more to be done; the Biden Administration’s National Strategy to Advance Equity, Justice and Opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders discusses the need for more diversity and representation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in government.[19] While the brief demonstrates that the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) is more diverse than other branches, the lack of specificity regarding what these NHPI do within the administration and how they feel about the WHIAANHPI plan echoes other research done in Reflective Democracy Campaign’s Asian American Pacific Islander Political Leadership report.[20] Language programs, internships, and scholarships for Pacific Islander should do more than give them experience but should help place them in spaces where policy is being made and their voices will guide the conversation. Pasifika policy is not just simply incorporating observable cultural practices and outsider perceptions of the region into policy that is projected onto Pacific Island countries; Pasifika policy is Pacific Islanders from the United States diaspora incorporating their cultural experiences and embodied Pasifika ontologies into a policy that transcends current political temperatures and establishes resilience and consistency in the region. Our recommendation on a university level advocates for more funding to be allocated to Pacific Islander and Indigenous student college groups at academic institutions throughout the state like the Pan-Pacific Association at UH Manoa to help provide resources and scholarships for service in the association while simultaneously promoting involvement, cultural practices, language revitalization, pan-Pacific community building and more.

Our recommendation from implementation of Pacific-minded policymaking on a large scale is through already established, Hawaii-based research organizations such as the East-West Center, PAAC, and CIPA. These organizations will partner with programs like the Presidential Management Fund to create partnerships with consulates and embassies in Hawaii and across the Pacific for potential internship opportunities. Internships should then be given the option to be converted into long term positions or extensions. Service in high needs areas, like the Pacific and US territories, should frame this promotion of soft power development in the region as reconnecting with culture and family in “home” countries to connect with Indigenous communities. Pacific Islanders who live in diaspora are often eager to reconnect to the fonua, land and this framework as connecting with home and family is directly tied to the Indigenous ontologies mentioned earlier in this paper. While some programs like this are already in place, like Resilient Pacific Island Leadership Program, a downfall to some of these current programs is that they do not promote participation from Pacific Islanders in the United States diaspora as much as they do to the Pacific. President Suzanne Vares-Lum of the East-West Center, in their five year Foundational Strategy states that the East-West Center plans to “increase Pacific Islands participation in all programs, with a balanced representation from Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia (including Native Hawaiians)”.[21] Prior to President Vares-Lum, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who resided in American territories were not seen as target groups. These programs, when more actively inclusive to Pacific Islanders in diaspora and the greater Pacific as defined by Pacific Islanders, can create a future generational pipeline to the Foreign Service, where they can fill jobs in the U.S. Embassies abroad within Oceania. Certain career jobs at U.S. diplomatic missions can be reframed through an Indigenous lens as members of the diaspora can travel back to their countries funded by the United States government., connect with family, practice language, and make U.S. wages; which embody the frameworks discussed above by Ka’ili, Lilomaiava-Doktor, and Gershon. Indigenizing foreign policy, empowering Indigenous people to work through western systems to eventually create more self-sustainable, self-reliant governments. The United States is not looking to recreate an imperial age in the Pacific, we are interested in establishing beneficial trade relationships with partner countries to create a more stable Pacific Region.

World language programs that include Austronesian languages, and eventually language immersion programs, should be offered in areas with high concentrations of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders regardless of geographical area. These programs should be partially funded through the United States’ State Department as a proactive approach to foreign policy in the Pacific region to develop interactive and engaging language curriculum that teaches language and simultaneously exposes young students to problem solving for challenges in the region. In addition to this, the US State Department should take on the responsibility to provide adequate compensation for teachers who specialize in these language groups to give them an incentive to teach in these high need areas. More Asian and Pacific Island languages such as Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Bislama, Tok Pisin, etc. should be considered as ‘critical languages’ to qualify for grants and opportunities such as the Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department to provide opportunities for students for immersive language learning in these nations. Hawaii, as a place of multilingual practice and a large Pacific Islander diaspora community, could itself become a hub for international education and language acquisition for the Pacific region. This can be centered around the involvement of a large public institution such as the University of Hawaii at Manoa in creating an intensive language institute specifically geared toward Asian and Pacific Island languages, similar to that of the Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institute (WISLI), which teaches is funded by a consortium of institutions. WISLI is host to seven summer language institutes that offer intensive summer courses in over 30 less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), mostly languages from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Languages can be taught not only as a way of feeling rooted and making connections to one’s own culture and heritage, but there is the benefit of human capital and creating these stronger ties and bonds with Oceania as a way of indigenizing U.S. foreign policy toward this region.


Pasifika policy is a radical approach to policy making in Oceania. We recommend a four pillar approach:

  1. Use Indigenous terminology to engage with the region
  2. Increase of government-funded language revitalization of Austronesian languages in Hawaii
  3. Targeted engagement in policy making opportunities for Pacific Islanders in Hawaii’s diaspora
  4. Connecting eligible Pacific Islanders from Hawaii to established professional development programs to work in embassies and consulates in high needs areas.

We must focus on increasing Pacific Islander representation in foreign policy roles while simultaneously promoting growth and resilience in Pacific Island countries.[22]  It is important to ensure that policymaking, such as this recommendation suggests, should dually support the well-being and development of the Pacific Islands and the people who live there while also strengthening relationships and engagement with the US. The development of Language Programs for diaspora communities in Hawaii, and the mainland US must also provide a pathway that supports and strengthens the engagement of Pacific diaspora with their home islands. By empowering our diasporic communities in Hawai’i and centering indigenous epistemology and frameworks in foreign policy in the Pacific, the US can effectively strengthen people-to-people connections and build long-lasting relationships with our Pacific neighbors.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Alex Coulston is  a Master’s degree student in  second language studies  at  the University  of  Hawaiʻi  at  Mānoa,  specializing  in  language  and  social  interaction.  He  is  a  former Graduate Degree Fellow with the East-West Center  and also interned with EWC’s Education Program. Alex received his BA in international studies from Emory University with a concentration in political economy and the Middle East region.

Courtney Lai is a Paralegal/Legal Assistant at Tsugawa Lau & Muzzi LLLC. Courtney received her BA in international studies with a minor in Japanese from Willamette University. Her research interests include indigenous language and cultural revitalization, food security, and the protection of natural resources.

Tess Schwalger is an Indigenous Samoan MA candidate in History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, a high school history teacher, and an intern at Pacific Forum. Her research interests include the rights of indigenous women in Oceania, United States-Pacific Islands diasporic relations, and Indigenous frameworks in policymaking.

[1] Joseph Nye. “Soft power: the origins and political progress of a concept”.

[2] Denghua Zhang and Setope So’oa’emalelagi. “A New Trend: Pacific Island Language Teaching as Part of the Belt and Road Initiative”.

[3] Embassy of the People’s Republic Of China in Ireland. “Fact Sheet: Cooperation Between China and Pacific Island Countries”.

[4] Epeli Hau’ofa, “Our Sea of Islands.”

[5] Tauhi vä means to nurture or care for the space between two people.

[6] Ka‘ili, T. “Tauhi vä: Nurturing Tongan Sociospatial Ties in Maui and Beyond”

[7] Gershon, Ilana. No Family Is an Island Cultural Expertise Among Samoans in Diaspora.

[8] Lilomaiava-Doktor, S. 2009. Beyond “Migration”: Samoan Population Movement (Malaga) and the Geography of Social Space (Va)

[9] The authors recognize the complexity of the word “Indigenous” and that some Pacific Islanders may feel this does not represent them accurately. For the purpose of this paper, we propose to use this term to denote Pacific Islanders from across Oceania who either live in the Pacific or in diaspora until a term more reflective of their positionality and perspective is available.

[10] Tapasā n.d. “Pacific and Pasifika Terminology” Tapasā. https://tapasa.tki.org.nz/about/tapasa/pacific-and-pasifika-terminology/.

[11] Bennett, Jesi Lujan. Apmam Tiemp Ti Uli’e Hit (Long Time No See): Chamorro Diaspora and the Transpacific Home, 2013.

[12] Today, Marc Ramirez. “In Pasifika, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Communities Seek Identity and Independence” USA TODAY, January 30, 2023

[13] Thomsen, Patrick Saulmatino, Lana Lopesi, and Kevin Lujan Lee. “Contemporary Moana Mobilities: Settler-Colonial Citizenship, Upward Mobility, and Transnational Pacific Identities.” The Contemporary Pacific 34, no. 2 (2022): 327–352.

[14] Saft, Scott. Exploring Multilingual Hawai’i: Language Use and Language Ideologies in a Diverse Society. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2019.

[15] US News, Hawaii Department of Education. “Students at Hawaii Department of Education” 2017. https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/hawaii/districts/hawaii-department-of-education-106677#:~:text=The%20student%20body%20at%20the,Hawaiian%20or%20other%20Pacific%20Islander.

[16] Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “How data disaggregation matters for Asian Americans and Pacific Islander” December 2016. https://equitablegrowth.org/how-data-disaggregation-matters-for-asian-americans-and-pacific-islanders/

[17] Politico. “Asian Americans are less likely to hold office”. May 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/04/asian-american-pacific-islander-representation-elected-office-485279

[18] Indo-Pacific Affairs, Center for. “About” University of Hawaii at Manoa September 2022   https://manoa.hawaii.edu/indopacificaffairs/

[19] White House, The. National Strategy to Advance Equity, Justice and Opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders January 2023. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/WHIAANHPI-2023-Report-to-the-President-FINAL.pdf

[20] Reflective Democracy Campaign. “Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Political Leadership” May 2021. https://wholeads.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/reflectivedemocracy-AdvanceAAPIPower-may2021.pdf

[21] East-West Center, The. East-West Center Foundational Strategy 2023-2027. August 2022. https://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/east-west-center-foundational-strategy-2023-2027

[22] White House, The. “FACT SHEET: Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States” February 11, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/02/11/fact-sheet-indo-pacific-strategy-of-the-united-states/

YL Blog #48 – Recentering the Pacific Partnership Strategy: Hawaii’s Role in Bridging the United States and Pacific Island Countries

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In September 2022, President Joe Biden’s Administration launched the Pacific Partnership Strategy (PPS), the United States’ first-ever national strategy dedicated to American engagement with all Pacific Island Countries (PICs), at the inaugural U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, D.C.[1]

Unlike the strategies of previous administrations, with Presidents Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia and Donald Trump’s Pacific Pledge, the PPS underscores collaborative action between the U.S. and PICs to combat climate change, maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, and ensure the sovereignty and security of PICs. The PPS is broken down into four complementary and overlapping objectives: a strong U.S.-Pacific Islands partnership; a united Pacific Island region connected with the world; a resilient Pacific prepared for the climate crisis and other 21st-century challenges; and empowered and prosperous Pacific Islanders.[2]

Although, in recent years, geopolitical rivalry with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has underpinned much of America’s Indo-Pacific Strategies and regional partnerships, this paper recognizes the limits of Washington’s persistent framing of U.S. engagement in the Pacific Islands Region (PIR) in terms of strategic competition with China towards the development of a meaningful U.S.-Pacific Partnership and elevation of Pacific Islander (PI) voices.

I argue that Hawaii plays an important role in implementing the PPS, spearheading Washington’s commitment, and strengthening the U.S.-Pacific Islands partnership. Enlisting the support of Hawaii’s local institutions and PI diaspora can pave the way for the empowerment of all PIs.  Home to numerous institutions dedicated to combatting both traditional and nontraditional security challenges and fostering regional integration, Hawaii is well-positioned and equipped to carry out and maintain the long-term goals of the PPS, while mitigating the “tyranny of distance” between the U.S. and PIR.

US-China Geopolitical Competition

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “For years, the Pacific Island region suffered from strategic neglect from Washington and others, and Beijing has stepped into that strategic vacuum, moving to increase its influence and project its power across the region.”[3] China’s decades-long engagement in the Pacific Islands (PI) is embodied in various approaches.

Diplomatically, the PRC has normalized high-level visits, encouraged China-PIC exchange via scholarships for PIs, and increased its presence in Pacific regional fora (e.g., Official Dialogue Partner of the Pacific Islands Forum).[4] The establishment of the China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum in 2006, expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and infrastructure projects to 10 PICs, and provision of financial assistance characterize China’s economic impact throughout the Pacific region. Reactions towards China’s economic presence in the region, however, have been divided. Although, the PRC often promotes PI investments as “win-win” cooperation deals and an alternative to aid from former colonial powers, local concerns say otherwise, citing BRI projects’ disregard for environmental and labor standards, lack of return on investment, and entrapment of small-scale economies under China’s “debt-trap diplomacy.”[5]

Although China’s hard power in the Pacific is not as extensive, U.S. fears of a growing Chinese military influence in Oceania peaked when Xi Jinping signed a security cooperation agreement with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands in April 2022.[6] China’s security ambitions were later revealed within Beijing’s “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision,” which sought to integrate economic with security cooperation and create a competing security architecture grounded by China-PI bilateralism.[7]

In contrast, U.S. engagement with the PICs, over the last decade, has been underwhelming, largely driven by the following goals: the preservation of its security arrangements with the Compact of Free Association (COFA) States, military sphere of influence in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Region (USAPR), and Western-aligned regionalism to counter Chinese influence.[8] Prior to 2022, America’s high-level (but inconsistent) visits to, exclusive “hard-power” maritime security agreements with, and faltering provision of aid towards the PICs have damaged Washington’s credibility and trust throughout the region.[9] U.S. Pacific policies were primarily reactionary, designed to undermine Chinese influence rather than address the priorities of PICs.

The Indo-Pacific Strategies launched by the Trump (2019) and Biden (2022) Administrations received mixed (overwhelmingly negative) reviews from PICs, criticizing America’s renewed engagement with the PIR as a reactionary, strategic vehicle to curb Chinese regional influence. Pacific Island leaders have voiced concerns about U.S.-China strategic competition in turning the region into a theater of strategic competition that disrupts and undermines Pacific priorities, particularly regionalism and quest for self-determination.[10] It has been argued that, “the more intense the U.S.-China competition grows, the more difficult it will be for the Pacific leaders to exercise agency, preserve their independence, and avoid committing to one side or the other.”[11] Fiji’s former Ambassador to the U.S., Naivakarurubulavu Solo Mara, stated that Pacific Islanders have the impression that they “have been tacked on at the end” as an “afterthought.”[12] These Strategies fail to align security priorities with that of PICs, where Pacific Islanders view the climate crisis and sustainable livelihoods as their core priorities, not U.S. competition with China.

While China’s growing footprint continues to drive the Biden Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy—demonstrated through the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, and Partners in the Blue Pacific—the launch of the Pacific Partnership Strategy reflected a change in Washington’s routine approach towards the region. By adopting the language of the Pacific Islands Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, identifying PICs as important partners, and recognizing the existential threat of nontraditional security challenges (i.e., climate change, health insecurity, IUU fishing), the U.S. is in a better position to implement the PPS going forward.

Hawaii in the Pacific

Although the PPS signifies a vital approach towards U.S. increased engagement with and presence in the PIR, it overlooks Hawaii’s potential and importance in forging stronger U.S.-PI partnership. Throughout the Strategy, Hawaii is only mentioned twice: in 1) the Introduction when proclaiming the U.S. as a Pacific nation; and 2) Section 4 highlighting the Honolulu-based East-West Center (EWC) and Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) as potential hubs for Pacific Island educational exchanges.[13]

Hawaii’s relationship with the PICs is characterized by decades of cross-cultural exchange, inter-island migration and Pasifika interconnectivity, economic cooperation, and diplomatic outreach. According to the EWC’s “The Pacific Islands Matter for America/America Matters for The Pacific Islands” Report, Hawaii inhabits about 400,000 Pacific Islanders—roughly 26% of the total Pacific Islander population in the U.S.[14] Economically, Hawaii and US-Affiliated Pacific Islands are America’s key trading partners with Indo-Pacific and Pacific Island Countries, “conducting over 50% of their international trade with Asian or Pacific trade partners.”[15]

As a Pacific entity itself, the Hawaiian archipelago also faces similar nontraditional security—especially climate change—and economic challenges confronting vulnerable PICs. The State of Hawaii has developed creative solutions and necessary institutions to lead the charge against existential threats and ensure regional security, particularly through its facilitation of people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and PICs.

Military-to-military exchanges between the U.S. and Pacific Islands have long been facilitated by Hawaii-based DOD institutions, including APCSS, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DMHA), and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM). APCSS conducts regional workshops and offers training to security and civilian officials, encouraging strategic communication among regional future leaders and decisionmakers of Indo-Pacific security.[16] CFE-DMHA, similarly, extends training to foreign military personnel, government officials, and civilian personnel focused on effectively commanding and controlling resources in the wake of natural or man-made disasters in participants’ respective countries.[17] USINDOPACOM enhances regional security by broadening military exercises and shiprider agreements, deploying defense attachés, and expanding the National Guard State Partnership Program throughout the Pacific.[18]

At the forefront of climate resilience, CFE-DMHA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have provided avenues for regional training against natural disasters, and collaborative research among ocean and climate scientists and environmental stewards, respectively. Through the Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program, NOAA has spearheaded projects focused on supporting climate change adaptation in the PIR, resulting in the collective advancement of collective scientific and technical capacity, availability of climate services, sub-regional and in-country training and core capacity-building.[19]

Beyond the security landscape, Hawaii has hosted and contributed significantly to the educational/professional exchange between Americans and Pacific Islanders. Educational scholarships offered by the University of Hawaii (UH)—notably through the Indo-Pacific Affairs Internship Program, Foreign Language and Area Studies and EWC Graduate Degree Fellowships, and U.S. South Pacific Scholarship (USSP)—have attracted Pacific Islanders to Hawaii. Since 1995, the USSP has funded 93 Pacific Island scholars total to study in the U.S.[20]

Established in 1960, the East-West Center (EWC)’s purpose was to promote better relations and mutual understanding of the peoples of the U.S. and Asia-Pacific. According to the EWC 2022 Annual Report, the Center hosted 142 participants from Oceania, 8% of total program participants.[21] Initiatives—such as the Resilient Pacific Island Leadership and Asia-Pacific Journalism Programs, Pacific Drought Knowledge Exchange, and Pacific Islands Tourism Professional Fellows Program—convened U.S. and PIC leaders and provided platforms for knowledge exchange, collaborative research and trust-building, and leadership development and cultural literacy among young professionals.[22] East-West Center President, Suzanne Vares-Lum, strongly expressed EWC’s role as “a bridge to allies, a hub of expertise, and a platform for Pacific voices.”[23]

Policy Recommendations

Hawaii’s people-centered activities and geographic proximity stress the State’s important partnership with the PICs and obligation in leading U.S. long-term engagement, mutual trust-building, and efforts of the Pacific Partnership Strategy. Washington must continue supporting Hawaii’s diplomatic conduct by reinforcing the capacity of the State’s regional institutions.

To further strengthen the U.S.’ people-to-people ties with and empower the climate and economic resilience of all Pacific Islanders, I also recommend the following strategies and actions the Biden Administration should consider and weave into the PPS.

Expand Funding for Educational Opportunities and Professional Exchanges in Hawaii

a. Strengthen Capacity and Recruitment of PI Leaders Participation for East-West Center Initiatives via Increased Funding.

As U.S. Representative Ed Case expressed, “[F]unding for the East-West Center and other institutions and efforts focused on the Indo-Pacific sends a powerful message to our critical Pacific Islands partners and allies that our country values our relationships, will invest further in them, and will continue as an active and engaged partner in pursuit of our shared values.”[24]

Despite receiving $22 million through U.S. Congress’ Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill, the Administration must continue to work closely with the EWC to increase the capacity for exchanges with and prioritize recruitment of PI scholars and leaders.[25] Increasing funding for exchange programs (such as the Asia-Pacific Leadership Program and Journalism Fellowship, Pacific Islands Tourism Professional Fellows Program, and Changing Faces Women’s Leadership Seminar) will reinvigorate and sustain the longevity of people-to-people exchange between the U.S. and PICs.

b. Increase Federal Funding for USSP Opportunities to Study at the University of Hawaii.

In contrast to the underwhelming number of USSP grantees, as of 2018, China has awarded 1,371 government scholarships to Pacific Island recipients.[26] Lynch constitutes China’s scholarship push as “an urgent national security issue” for the U.S., arguing that “the more Pacific Islanders study at Chinese institutions, the more sympathetic [scholars] will be to China when voting in election or making policy.”[27]

Underscored within the “Roadmap for a 21st-Century U.S.-Pacific Island Partnership,” the Administration has responded in kind by pledging $5M, pending Congressional approval, for the establishment of the Resilience and Adaptation Fellowship Program for Rising Leaders—in partnership with the University of the South Pacific, UH, and University of California Santa Barbara.[28] While this may sound appealing, the PPS should allot funding towards existing programs (USSP) to continuously facilitate and finance educational opportunities for PI scholars.

c. Elevate Pacific Forum’s Presence and Research Fellowships.

As one of the world’s leading Asia-Pacific policy research institutes, Honolulu-based think tank, Pacific Forum, has long elevated Asian and Pacific Islander perspectives, enhance cross-cultural connectivity, executed research projects, and engaged in policy discussions with global leaders and publics shaping Indo-Pacific security.

President Emeritus Ralph Cossa advocated that amplifying Pacific Forum’s research fellowships and NextGen programs, particularly the Young Leaders Program, via federal funding will extend Hawaii’s public diplomacy reach in the PIR, presenting more research opportunities and professional exchanges for PI scholars.[29]

d. Establish Leadership Development Internships/Exchange Program for PI Local Government Leaders in Partnership with the Hawaii State Legislature

Local politicians of Hawaii’s State Legislature should develop programs that promote leadership exchanges and professional opportunities for young Pacific leaders to learn more about American and local governance and democratic participation in Hawaii.

While the Administration’s Roadmap seeks to establish the U.S.-Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders Fellowship in Washington, D.C., Pacific Island leaders can best learn about American democracy, political stability, and community-led security (particularly climate) initiatives in Hawaii, a culturally, politically, and environmentally similar location to that of PICs.

Integrate Hawaii’s Presence into and Support for Regional Climate Security Architecture and Sustainability Efforts

e. Initiate USINDOPACOM and CFE-DMHA Collaboration with Key Regional Climate Actors.

USINDOPACOM and CFE-DMHA’s Community for Indo-Pacific Climate Security should collaborate with agencies within the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP)—such as the Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP) Task Force, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP)—at the forefront of climate insecurity to jointly promote information and technological sharing, conduct exercises and trainings, and seek avenues for climate security cooperation.[30]

f. Extend US Geological Services (USGS) Pacific-Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC) Beyond the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Region (USAPR).

The PI-CASC, a collaborative partnership between the USGS and UH Manoa-led university consortium, seeks to provide regionally relevant scientific information and resources to support community-led sustainability and climate adaptation efforts of Hawaii and the USAPR.

The Administration should expand the PI-CASC to include and support the climate security initiatives of all PICs. In conjunction with Pacific Community’s Pacific Islands Ocean Decade Collaborative Centre, the PI-CASC can create more opportunities for regional dialogue, knowledge sharing, and professional research partnerships throughout the Pacific.

g. Include PICs in Hawaii Green Growth (HGG)’s Local2030 Hub Initiatives.

Grounded in indigenous knowledge, local movements, and a strong public-private partnership, the HGG aims to identify green growth economic priorities and develop Hawaii’s long-term sustainable economy—aligned with the UN 2030 Agenda—through community resilience, transition to a net-zero economy, and regenerative tourism.

HGG Initiative should expand and integrate PI local leaders into its Local2030 Hub network, where they can partake in cross-sector, peer-to-peer conversations, exchange best practices for sustainable economic development, and collaborate on green solutions applicable to all Pacific Islands.

h. Facilitate Dialogue between Hawaii and PI Tourism Industry Leaders.

Collective initiatives to advance regional economic development and sustainability can be advanced through dialogues between leaders of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Pacific Tourism Organization. Best practices in sustainable tourism, natural resource and destination management, and visitor-local community building should be shared to uplift the peoples and development of all small-scale, tourism economies of all PICs, including Hawaii.

Establish a Hawaii-based Peace Corps Training Program

As Peace Corps volunteers return to the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu), the Administration should establish a Peace Corps Training (PCTP) based in Hawaii to further support the PPS’ goal in fostering greater people-to-people connectivity.[31] In collaboration with UH Manoa’s Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs, the Peace Corps should create a Pacific regional training program that 1) emphasizes cultural sensitivity and competence to best engage with PI and indigenous communities; 2) prioritizes specialized Oceania languages training; and 3) orients training programs around combatting specific development challenges facing PICs (e.g., sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation, health and food security). Furthermore, a PCTP in Hawaii would equip future volunteers with practical skills and expertise to serve the needs of PI communities, offer opportunities for pre-integration with PI host communities through interactions with Hawaii’s PI diaspora, and gain first-hand living experience in the Pacific.

If established, the PCTP should launch outreach efforts throughout Hawaii to actively target and recruit local talent among Hawaii, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations. With cultural knowledge and experience interacting with PI diaspora, enlisting Hawaii’s residents would significantly expand the supply of volunteers suitable for Oceania, thereby entrenching people-centered diplomacy between the two regions.


Establishing the Pacific Partnership Strategy is a strong start to America’s reengagement with PICs; however, this should not be the final word on U.S. commitment to the Pacific. The current reality of a polarized America—demonstrated by Congress’ constant stagnation and uncertainty of U.S. administrations—can threaten U.S. long-term engagement with the region, jeopardizing its presence and credibility when promises are not delivered. The U.S. needs to make better use of its existing institutions and advantages in the Pacific—i.e., Hawaii’s educational and professional institutions, shared vision towards security, and large Pacific Islander diaspora.

Alan Tidwell, Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Studies Department, has strongly expressed Washington’s need for Americans from Hawaii and the USAPR to “fill the expertise gap” and “help inform the government about Pacific Islands points of view” and strategic priorities.[32] Efforts to empower and foster collaboration between Hawaii-based institutions and Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific agencies, deepen people-to-people connections via cultural/educational fellowships and professional exchanges, and accentuate Hawaii’s long-standing relationship with and contribution to U.S.-PIC relations should be explored and expanded in the Strategy.

As the only U.S. state located in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii’s geographic proximity, economic centrality, cultural relevance, and diplomatic prowess have, and can continuously, contributed to the United States’ presence, delivery of soft power initiatives, and bilateral relationship with the PICs. Fostering opportunities for PIs through Hawaii will not only enable PIs to build their own capacity, but also reinforce America’s commitment to elevating the prosperity, well-being, and autonomy of Pacific Islander Countries and peoples.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Johnson Pham is currently a Staff Assistant for Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) and was previously an intern for the Regional Security Studies Program at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies. He is a First-Generation graduate, having recently earned his BA in International Studies at American University’s School of International Service, with a specific focus on U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security.

[1] Gordon Peake and Camilla Pohle-Anderson, “Six Months In, Where Does the U.S.’ Pacific Islands Strategy Stand?” United States Institute of Peace, April 23, 2023. https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/04/six-months-where-does-us-pacific-islands-strategystand#:~:text=The%20strategy%20lists%20four%20main%20objectives%3A%20%.

[2] White House, Pacific Partnership Strategy of the United States (Washington, D.C., September 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2022/09/Pacific-Partnership-Strategy.pdf.

[3] Charles Edel, Christopher Johnstone, and Gregory Poling, “White House Unveils Pacific Islands Strategy at Historic Summit,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 30, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/white-house-unveils-pacific-islands-strategy-historic-summit

[4] Zhou Fangyin, “A Reevaluation of China’s Engagement in the Pacific Islands,” in The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands, edited by Graeme Smith and Terence Wesley-Smith, (Canberra, AU: ANU Press, 2021), 234-5.

[5] Carol Li, “The Belt and Road Initiative in Oceania: Understanding the People’s Republic of China’s Strategic Interests and Engagement in the Pacific,” Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance, July 2022: 1-27.

[6] Judith Cefkin, “U.S. Steps Up Diplomacy in Pacific Amid Solomon Islands-China Pact,” United States Institute of Peace, May 4, 2022, https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/05/us-steps-diplomacy-pacific-amid-solomon-islands-china-pact

[7] Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos, “Strengthening Collective Security Approaches in the Pacific,” in Strategic Competition and Security Cooperation in the Blue Pacific, ed. Deon Canyon (Honolulu: Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, 2022), 179-180.

[8] Patrick Dupont, “The United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy and a Revisionist China: Partnering with Small and Middle Powers in the Pacific Islands Region,” Pacific Forum Issues & Insights 21, WP2 (Feb 2021): 4.

[9] Dupont, “The United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy,” 3-11.

[10] Terence Wesley-Smith and Gerard Finin, “Washington’s Charm-Offensive and the US-Pacific Island Country Summit,” Devpolicy Blog, November 3, 2022, https://devpolicy.org/washingtons-charm-offensive-us-pacific-island-country-summit-20221103/; Marie Jourdain and Charles Lichfield, “Engaging the Pacific Islands is no longer about the why, but about the how,” Atlantic Council, October 31, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/engaging-the-pacific-islands-is-no-longer-about-the-why-but-about-the-how/.

[11] Terence Wesley-Smith and Graeme Smith, “Introduction: The Return to Great Power Competition,” in The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands, ed. Graeme Smith and Terence Wesley-Smith, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2012), 17.

[12] John Grady, “Pacific Island Nations Want More U.S. Engagement,” USNI News, May 15, 2019, https://news.usni.org/2019/05/15/pacific-island-nations-want-more-u-s-engagement.

[13] White House, Pacific Partnership Strategy.

[14] “The Pacific Islands Matter for America Matters for the Pacific Islands,” (Honolulu, HI: East-West Center, March 2022), 34.

[15] Ibid, 24.

[16] Mark Esper, “Defense Secretary Addresses Free and Open Indo-Pacific at APCSS,” U.S. Department of Defense (Washington, D.C.: 2020), https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2328124/defense-secretary-addresses-free-and-open-indo-pacific-at-apcss-courtesy-transc/.

[17] Phil Davidson, “The United States’ Enhanced & Enduring Commitment to the Pacific islands Region,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Honolulu, HI: 2020), https://www.pacom.mil/Media/Speeches-Testimony/Article/2421973/the-united-states-enhanced-enduring-commitment-to-the-pacific-islands-region/

[18] Davidson, “The United States’ Enhanced”.

[19] Marra, John, Courtnery Couch, and Laura Brewington. “Pacific Islands Climate Storybook.” (Honolulu, HI: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021), 1.

[20] Kimery Lynch, “Scholarships in the Pacific Islands are an urgent US national security issue,” Pacific Forum, June 9, 2022, https://pacforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/PacNet32.2022.06.09-1.pdf

[21] East-West Center, “East-West Center Annual Report 2022,” (Honolulu, HI: Jan. 2023), 4.

[22] East-West Center, “East-West Center Foundational Strategy,” (Honolulu, HI: Aug. 2022), 8.

[23]  Suzanne Vares-Lum, “The East-West Center’s Regional Role in 2022,” East-West Center, February 3, 2022, https://www.eastwestcenter.org/news/web-article/the-east-west-center-s-regional-role-in-2022.

[24] “EWC Receives $22 Million in 2023 Congressional Appropriations Bill,” East-West Center, January 6, 2023, https://www.eastwestcenter.org/news/announcement/ewc-receives-22-million-2023-congressional-appropriations-bill.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Lynch, “Scholarships in the Pacific.”

[27] White House, “Fact Sheet: Roadmap for a 21st-Century U.S.-Pacific Island Partnership,” (Washington, D.C., 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/09/29/fact-sheet-roadmap-for-a-21st-century-u-s-pacific-island-partnership/

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ralph Cossa, interview with Johnson Pham, June 5, 2023.

[30] Lillian Dang, “An Emerging Climate Security Framework in the Pacific Islands: Opportunities for U.S. Climate Security Engagement,” in Climate Change in the Pacific Islands: Needs and Priorities for U.S. Engagement, ed. Michelle Ibanez (Honolulu, HI: Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance, 2023: 16-17.

[31] U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue in Papua New Guinea,” (Washington, D.C.: 2023), https://www.state.gov/u-s-pacific-islands-forum-leaders-dialogue-in-papua-new-guinea/

[32] Alan Tidwell, “Next Steps for American Engagement with the Pacific Islands,” Lowy Institute, Aug. 20, 2022, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/next-steps-american-engagement-pacific-islands.

YL Blog #44 – A Trilateral Discourse: The Role of Hawai’i in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

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The Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was a riveting exercise that demonstrated the strength, resilience, and future areas for growth in our Trilateral alliance between Japan, the ROK, and the United States. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from area experts as well as collaborate with our peers in the historic metropolis of Tokyo. As we visited the US Embassy, RCAST, Sankei Shimbun, and the Prime Minister’s cabinet offices, the intricacies of diplomacy and policy making became clearer. The main activity of the Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was a tabletop exercise that allowed us to put everything that we had learned into practice. As we discussed our countries’ priorities and perspectives, it became clear that while our short-term goals were aligned, our long-term projections were not as connected. The United States’ geographic location and its commitments to the region were reflected in our responses. Young leaders from Japan and the ROK were anxiously awaiting greater U.S. military responsiveness to aggression in the region, beyond just the increase in forward posturing with in the first-island chain.

The experts at the Trilateral Dialogue emphasized that the United States and its allies are not worried about China breaking laws, but rather China changing the rule of law in order to assert itself as the world superpower. As the United States and its allies fight to maintain their position, there are two fronts in the wake of rising tension between the PRC and the Trilateral to be aware of: first, military advancements in the first island chain and second, transport control and ownership in the second and third island chains. One of the most common concerns among young leaders and experts alike was military advancements in the region. Of particular note was the future of disruptive technology. While the U.S. military had been quick to increase the intensity of military exercises and presence in the region, like RIMPAC 2022, Balikatan 2023, and supporting Japan’s counterstrike abilities, our peers from the ROK and Japan worried that it was not enough to counter China’s emerging technology and digital policies. Looking for a way to bring about potential solutions, experts urged young leaders to deepen their commitment to share intelligence and increase dialogue within the Trilateral.

Equally as important, and potentially critical to long term sustainability in the Pacific, is the challenge of economic and political independence in Oceania, specifically in regards to transport control and private ownership in the second and third island chains. As the tabletop exercise progressed, it became clear to young leaders that while the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) discussion was focused on Taiwan, in many ways it neglected the importance of other countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Here is where I see one of the United States’ greatest opportunities for growth, specifically with regards to Hawaii’s potential role in regional leadership.

Just as Hawaii is used as a hub for the United States defense forces, Hawaii can also serve as a diplomatic/political epicenter for the Pacific and Southeast Asia. In recent months, we have seen an increase of formal US relations being established in the region, such as the embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga, with more to potentially open in Vanuatu and Kiribati. Re-emphasizing the Pacific in FOIP is crucial to counter China’s soft power advances in the region. U.S. policymakers should leverage Hawaii’s diverse population and interconnected community to strengthen soft power in the region. This can be done through local leaders in Hawaii encouraging greater economic exchange in Oceania and staffing indigenous people in the diaspora in Pacific embassies and government offices. As we enter into a new era of multipolarity, the importance of self-sustainable countries and economies in the second and third island chains will grow, and Hawaii can play a fundamental role in their establishment. The future of the Trilateral is heavily dependent on maintaining of the rule of law, stabilizing trade, and creating opportunities for sustainable development throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Attending the Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was an eye-opening experience. Not only was this my first time in Japan, but it was also one of my first experiences seeing how diplomatic relationships work in real time. As we nourish our relationships with members of the Trilateral through intelligence sharing and a unified vision of a peaceful Indo-Pacific region, we can engage more in sustainable trade relations and enter a new era of political stability.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

APAL Scholar travel opportunities are made possible through the generous support of the Freeman Foundation.

Tess Schwalger ([email protected]) is an Indigenous Samoan MA candidate in History at UH Manoa, a high school history teacher, and an intern at Pacific Forum. She is also an Alumni of Pacific Forums Hawaii Asia-Pacific Affairs Leadership (APAL) Program. Her research interests include the rights of indigenous women in Oceania, United States PI diasporic relations, and Indigenous frameworks in policymaking. Her work has been presented at conferences at the University of Cambridge and Singapore Management University.