The tour is a gathering of 12 Pacific islands journalists who have come together to learn and talk about issues affecting our nations, from climate change to development finance and infrastructure.
It will also include training and field trips to Washington DC, Texas, California and Fiji. I am representing the Cook Islands, a nation where I have spent four years and counting, reporting on issues like our country’s impending graduation to a developed nation, and the challenges it poses to infrastructure and climate change.
The journey to Honolulu has not been an easy one. I encountered numerous hurdles when obtaining my US visa in Auckland. It required certain documents from Rarotonga which I wasn’t aware of, until my interview at the US Consulate.
Here I would like to thank the Ministry of Justice for an excellent customer service – emailing the document I required within minutes of my request. I wish I could say the same for the other law enforcement agency which took about four working days to process a simple, three sentence clearance form.
Apparently the document was ready but it took a while for a senior official to sign it.
Because of the delay in obtaining that “three sentence form”, my visa wasn’t processed in time and I missed my initial flight to Honolulu – but when I eventually got it, it was worth the wait. I don’t have to worry about applying for another US visa for a decade!
To be honest, Honolulu is over-rated. If white sandy beach and turquoise water is used as a yardstick to describe a beauty of a nation, the Cook Islands (Aitutaki in particular) will surely win this contest.
There is no denying Hawaii’s status as one of the popular holiday destinations in the world. It is hot – in every aspect, and weather included.
One thing that stands out is Waikiki beach – one of the major attractions in Honolulu. This popular surf beach is at the heart of the city, near the shopping centres and eateries, which makes it an ideal hangout spot for visitors and the local population who come to enjoy riding the waves or soaking in the sun.
I guess the popularity of Hawaii has been driven by the visitors from the mainland USA. The tourism industry here is worth in billions, much more than what Cook Islands earns from this industry.
There are also a lot of foreigners here working in the industry – especially the taxi drivers who seem very patriotic about this island state.
We have had some interesting discussions and visits in the first leg of the tour last week. There was a session on China in the Pacific which I joined midway after jetting into Honolulu. From what the fellow colleagues presented, it seems there is a grave concern from the increasing Chinese presence in the region.
We also visited US Navy Indo Pacific Command Center (the oldest and the largest of the unified combatant commands) and had an opportunity to discuss issues of concerns with Admiral Philip S Davidson, the Commander of the Indo Pacific Command.
Of the five threats to the USA, Admiral Davidson pointed out, the growing Chinese influence in the region was one of them. He likened Chinese diplomacy to that of Japanese in the lead-up to World War 2.
And this from the state that suffered the Pearl Harbour attack.
The Admiral also pointed out climate change as one of the threats.
We paid a visit to the Asia Pacific Center for Security Services where we had a roundtable discussion with representatives from various security and other US agencies who talked about their role in the Pacific. mahal
By the sound of it, they seem to do a lot in the region but unfortunately we don’t see much reflected at the ground level.
The group also met with representatives from media companies in Honolulu shared challenges we face in executing our role as a watchdog.
We left for Washington via San Francisco over the weekend for the second leg of this tour where we will learn about the US political system, receive training from Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, and meet with two congressmen.
The change in weather and time difference will surely pose some challenge but when we have an agenda full of learning opportunities, there is no stopping back. Until my next diary, Mahalo and Aloha!