U.S. Ambassador Erin E. McKee leaves her position to begin her new assignment in Washington, DC.
Papua New Guinea – U.S. Ambassador Erin E. McKee left her position as Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, to begin her new assignment in Washington, DC. The Biden Administration nominated Ambassador McKee, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Career Minister, to be the Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination by unanimous vote on March 24. She departed Papua New Guinea on Thursday, April 14. She will be sworn in and begin her new position at USAID shortly after her arrival in Washington, DC.
At her departure ceremony here, Ambassador McKee made the following remarks:
Good evening and thank you for your patience as I share some of my thoughts with all of you about my two and a half years here in Papua New Guinea, and my two and a half year of service as Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
I am pleased to be able to depart my post as Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, with a legacy of shared victories. I’m leaving the Coral Sea knowing that all three countries are in a better position to prosper than when I arrived two and a half years ago. And that’s because our relationships are stronger. Our understanding of one another is stronger. Our respect for one another is stronger. And these ties cannot be broken.
I’m departing on a high note, and yes, it is sad, and it is bittersweet, but I’m so deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last two and a half years. The United States is expanding our presence in the region and is here to stay. The New Embassy Compound, which you can see just over the fence there, is nearing completion, and symbolizes the United States’ strengthened and enduring partnership with the governments of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, while we advance the United States’ commitment to the Pacific, to a prosperous, inclusive, and democratically empowered society. As you all may have noticed, the Secretary of State recently announced that we are reopening our Embassy in Honiara, further deepening our relationship that began in WWII and endures to this day.
But more importantly, I’m leaving you with a great team. Our Embassy staff has expanded significantly – we’ve actually doubled in size since I arrived. But not only in size but in diversity, in terms of skills and focus and passion. Since I arrived, we’ve added new agencies from the executive branch, our Defense Attaché’s office, USAID, and now we have the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Justice, and Homeland Security, and the U.S. Forest Service- that shows an enduring commitment in a lot of areas where we’ve heard very loud demand signals from our partners here for engagement. And we’ve attracted top talent to staff these positions.
Over the past two and a half years, I met with government officials, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, business people, and alumni in many regions of the country. I was repeatedly asked for assistance from the governors in Wewak, Alotau, Popondetta, Kimbe, and others. In each of the 17 provinces I was privileged to visit – I tried to get to all 22 but with the COVID restrictions, and now my shortened timing I wasn’t able get to all 22 – I saw firsthand the opportunities we have to deepen our partnership. And I listened to the people and clearly heard their desire for partnership with the United States. It was strong and unequivocal. What the people seek, what your people seek, from partnership with the United States is training, tools, skills, and most of all, empowerment. That’s what the people of Papua New Guinea are hungry for. And that’s what they deserve.
I went back to my staff, my amazing team, and we worked to respond to as many requests as possible. And I’m proud to say that again and again we fulfilled our promise to engage on issues of health, the economy, security, and we amplified and shored up our many shared values. We fulfilled our promise to promote gender equality and rule of law. We fulfilled our promise to level the playing field and equip women and men with the tools they need to succeed. Together, America and Papua New Guinea are providing opportunities to all people. That’s what democracy means. No person, vulnerable, marginalized, or remote is left behind. Let me give you a few examples.
To power a nation, Papua New Guinea needs accessible and affordable electricity. So, the United States, along with Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Papua New Guinea- support Papua New Guinea’s goal of connecting 70 percent of the population to electricity by 2030. Together, these five like-minded democracies share the same vision as well as the same commitment to delivering on the promise of raising the standard of living for all people everywhere. And this is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. That’s why we are investing in the country to give millions of Papua New Guineas a level playing field where they can be employed in contemporary industries, earn income, feed their families, and build a great nation.
We’re doing that, and we’re doing it together. We are reaching towards basic universal rights and freedoms, as all democratic nations must do to respond to the needs of their people. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the United States are not just ensuring that seventy percent of the population have electricity by 2030. We are enshrining basic rights and freedoms that are found in each of our constitutions. Energy and dignity for all. That’s our goal, that’s our vision, that’s what must be done.
As we talk about these victories, I want to highlight the important role that the private sector and civil society play in advancing the wellbeing of all citizens of these three countries. The American companies operating here in Papua New Guinea have contributed to the economy – they’ve created jobs, they’ve brought training – and most importantly, imported American workplace values such as equal opportunity and safe working conditions. America’s partnership with the private sector to end corruption and promote transparency and accountability, makes Papua New Guinea successful, resilient, and prosperous not just for the bottom line or today, but for generations to come. And we will defeat corruption by implementing sound reforms consistent with international anticorruption commitments. Developing transparent accountable institutions, and empowering citizens, journalists, and civil society organizations to help defeat this global threat to security and democracy.
And I’m proud to say that thousands of U.S. companies operating in the Indo-Pacific uphold a commitment to corporate responsibility and bring their spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to the region.
Which is why I’m doubly proud that American companies came together to work with the U.S. Embassy to build a strong foundation for future partnership by establishing an American Chamber of Commerce, or AmCham, for Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
The Chamber will enable meaningful civic participation of its members and facilitate trade and investment between these island nations and the United States. U.S. Embassy Port Moresby and key founding members officially kicked-off the creation of a local AmCham chapter on October 27. Key founding members adopted a board and the name ‘the American Chamber of Commerce Coral Sea’ or ‘AmCham Coral Sea’ as the identity. The AmCham will deepen the trade and investment relationship between the United States and Pacific Islands by providing information and trade connections to members. The AmCham will also act as a platform to advance women’s and marginalized communities’ economic empowerment by actively recruiting women and minority-owned businesses and advocating for their rights and protections across the three countries. The AmCham will officially launch in the coming months, and I couldn’t be more proud of that accomplishment.
I leave Papua New Guinea knowing that our investment in human capital, the nation’s greatest resource, was well spent. Papua New Guinea, through partnership, is on the path to joining like-minded democracies and achieving its development and democratic goals.
Together – and we are stronger together, we know that – we will spur economic growth, increase employment, bolster education, and promote health infrastructure. Students will have access to more learning tools. Factories will have power. Health clinics will have light. Communities will have more income. And most importantly, women will have more power.
And it is important to point out that our cooperation will have a special emphasis on women’s equality. For Papua New Guinea to grow strong, all of its citizens must fully participate in business and politics.
The United States government believes that women’s empowerment is not optional – it’s a must. One hundred percent, the full population, must have access to jobs, must have education, must have a voice. Women must have greater access to employment, greater access to income, and therefore greater access to what they need to educate their children and keep their families healthy.
Quite simply, when women are empowered, it benefits entire societies. Nations are stronger.
The evidence shows that empowered women leads to healthier and more educated male and female children, strengthening society and securing a more prosperous future for families and the country.
So, while gender-based violence is an issue worldwide, we know that this challenge is especially prevalent in Papua New Guinea. Which is why – after years of effort with my Embassy team – I am proud that Papua New Guinea has launched the revised Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Guidelines. We worked hard on getting those launched. It wasn’t easy. These new guidelines give gender-based violence survivors and key populations greater access to care. The new guidelines provide healthcare workers with the necessary skills, knowledge, and information to provide treatment, care, and support for survivors of gender-based violence. And I am counting on all of you here to ensure that these guidelines will be expanded, deepened, and enforced.
The United States stands firm behind its commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless and partnering with those who likewise seek to create a sustainable, prosperous, inclusive, secure, and democratically empowered society. Just like we’ve done together here in PNG. Access to services, equality for all, protection of vulnerable populations. These are ingrained in the founding principles of our nation. And to preserve these foundations of democracy, we must ensure that all voices are heard, and to protect those who are incapable of protecting themselves.
In order to offer this protection, security is critical. So, I am also proud that Papua New Guinea stands alongside the United States, Australia, and our like-minded allies to strengthen the rule of law and advance our mutual security objectives. Just a few days ago the United States and Papua New Guinea completed a joint military exercise called Tamiok Strike, where our defense forces trained one another for combat– that’s right, the PNG Defense Force taught our guys how to fight in the jungles of PNG. PNG officials travelled to Hawaii for training at our Indo-Pacific Command, and to Wisconsin over the winter – where they saw snow for the first time – to begin the new partnership with the Wisconsin National Guard. And Wisconsin National Guard forces traveled to Papua New Guinea to continue the legacy of our partnership. This brotherhood forged in WWII where Wisconsin National Guard forces fought and died alongside Papua New Guinean costal scouts at the Battle of Buna.
And just last month I was aboard a Coast Guard Cutter, the Stratton – named after the first woman commissioned as a Coast Guard Officer I must point out – right off shore there by APEC Haus. The Coast Guard offered to partner with the PNGDF forces to protect her waters. The Coast Guard shiprider agreement will allow the United States and PNG to work together to combat illegal fishing, stop illegal logging, and thwart the smuggling of drugs, guns, and most importantly – people.
But I want to make one thing clear. Papua New Guinea always has sovereignty over her land, seas and skies. Captain Adler of Coast Guard Cutter Stratton told me that when a PNGDF official is on board a Coast Guard Cutter, the Papua New Guinean ship rider has control of the operation. That is what security partnerships with the United States deliver – unflinching respect for sovereignty and enhanced capabilities so that you can better protect your seas, skies, and land.
That’s the way America works. Our support is no strings attached. We, like-minded democracies, share the same vision of a free world. Which is why I was so touched when PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu voted in favor of the UN resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its unlawful invasion and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and political independence and stop the senseless killing of women and children.
The pictures out of Bucha are fresh in my mind, and we must put an end to the senseless destruction.
In June of last year, President Biden told Vladmir Putin in Geneva, “no President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country.”
And I, as the United States’ representative appointed by the President, swore to uphold those universal rights and freedoms here in Papua New Guinea. I am leaving knowing I have delivered on that promise. We have opened the door to cooperation and collaboration, and like-minded governments have freely chosen to partner with us because freedom and dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: freedom and dignity will prevail.
Our collaborative efforts to have led to victory after victory for the people here, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished together. And our work is just beginning.
I leave you in very capable hands with my team here. They have promised me that they will keep the momentum going, and we won’t miss a step. As your partner and ally, the United States is committed more than ever to continue working with you and the other partners here today to achieve Papua New Guinea’s democratic goals. So, while I’m sad to leave, I leave knowing that Papua New Guinea is moving in the right direction, ever upwards and onwards, and I depart knowing that you are in good hands, hand-in-hand, with the United States of America.