The European Union’s ambassador to the Pacific says even small nations such as the Cook Islands have a role to play in world diplomacy.
Sujiro Seam is in the Cook Islands this week to present his letters of credence to the King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters.
He also met Cook Islands Prime
Minister Mark Brown, and was due to give a talk to the University of the South
Pacific Cook Islands campus.
Seam said this was his first
visit to the Cook Islands – he had planned a visit in March 2020, but Covid-19
border closures put a stop to this.
“Of course, the best approach
to preventing the spread of Covid-19 was to close borders, so the population
could be kept safe,” Seam said.
Seam said he turned down the
opportunity to present his letters of credence virtually, but instead chose to
wait for an opportunity to visit the Cook Islands.
“The protectionist strategy
was very effective, especially in countries like the Cook Islands. But the main
drawback of the Covid-19 lockdowns was the isolation,” he said.
“We had to work with virtual
diplomacy, which is the best you can get at the time of a pandemic, but still
not great. Diplomacy is a contact sport; you need to meet people face-to-face
and develop personal ties.”
Seam talked about a number of
issues affecting the Cook Islands and the rest of the world.
Seam said he agreed with Prime
Minister Brown’s speech at COP 27. At the conference, Brown called on larger
nations to provide climate financing for smaller nations, and pushed for the
larger nations to do more to reduce emissions.
“The EU has been leading by
example on these two issues. The EU has the most ambitious carbon reduction
scheme in the developed world. We have a legally binding obligation to achieve
carbon neutrality,” he said.
“On the issue of climate
finance, the EU has committed 23 billion Euros towards it. It is leading by
The Cook Islands established
diplomatic relations with the EU in 2001. Since then, the Cook Islands have co-operated
with Germany, the EU, and its member states on various development initiatives
in areas such as water, energy, health, fisheries, tourism, international
finance, climate adaptation, waste management, and marine and coastal
Asked about the Cook Islands’
desire to become a member of the United Nations, Seam said the EU recognised it
was a decision to be made by the Cook Islands as a sovereign nation.
“For us, it is nonetheless
important to maintain a good relationship with the Cook Islands. The bedrock of
our relationship is a shared respect of democracy and sound governance and the
application of the rule of law,” Seam said.
“The most recent achievement
is the conclusion of the sustainable fisheries partnership between the Cook
Islands and the European Union. Fishing resources are important for the Cook
Seam said the EU respected
sovereign nations to have their own stances on seabed mining, but he said he
would be interested to “learn the current state of play” in the Cook Islands.
Sharing his views on the
Russian war with Ukraine, Seam said it was a “very sad story”.
“The European Union project is
built around the idea of peace and prosperity and democracy and freedom of
markets,” he said.
“It’s extremely concerning
that a nation such as Russia has chosen to invade sovereign nation in Ukraine
and therefore damage the principles of the United Nations charter.
“As far as the European Union
was concerned, this was a threat, but also an opportunity for the EU to step up
and defend the values of the UN Charter.”
Seam said the EU provided the
Ukraine the means to defend itself.
“That proved successful, it
was a major step, it was the first time the EU agreed unanimously to provide
weapons for a sovereign nation. We assisted Ukraine not only militarily but
also in terms of humanitarian aid and economic care,” he said.
“But there were also the
seizures of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs, which included yachts, one
of which was registered in the Cook Islands. It shows a country as far away as
the Cook Islands has a role to play in imposing sanctions to put pressure on
Russia and Belarus.”
Seam said the EU recognises
that the war in Ukraine has affected food prices all over the world, and was in
the process of developing a $10 million Euro fund to assist Pacific nations in
“This is a regional response,
so it will take time to implement. We want to make sure whichever scheme we put
in place, the populations which are most in need would be able to access it,”
“At the end of the day, it
will be a matter of needs.”
Seam was also interested in
visiting the Cook Islands when the country holds the Pacific Islands Forum next
Seam, who is based in Suva,
Fiji, said he had a busy schedule for his Cook Islands visit, but hoped to
“have a swim in the lagoon” at some stage.
“Diplomacy has always been my
passion; I’ve been a diplomat for 24 years. Of course, as a young diplomat your
ambition is to become an ambassador, and I feel I have overachieved in that
field,” he said.
“I was once French ambassador
to five countries, but as EU ambassador to the Pacific, I deal with 13 nations.
So that’s 18 nations in my five years in the Pacific.”