Prime Minister John Key says the visit of United States' Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a sign that the Pacific Islands Forum is increasing in importance and status.
The State Department confirmed today that Ms Clinton would spend Saturday (NZT) in Rarotonga where the Forum is being held this week. She is due to arrive on Friday night and her first appearance will be a breakfast on Saturday morning with the 15 other Pacific leaders.
Mr Key arrived in the Cook Islands this morning and will hold talks with other Pacific leaders before his one-on-one with Clinton.
He said the increasingly high-powered delegations the United States had sent to the Forum over the past two years was a sign both of President Barack Obama's focus on the Asia Pacific and of the maturing of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Last year's Forum in Auckland attracted some big international names for the post-Forum dialogue - including UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and EU President Jose Barroso.
Commentators have said Clinton's attendance is a response to concern about the increased influence of China in the region.
Mr Key said it was true that China's influence was growing, but the United States' interest was not new. It had a long history in the region and were there were still some American territories such as American Samoa and Guam.
He said he could not talk for the United States about whether there was concern about China's influence over Fiji.
Mr Key's first official function at the Forum was to announce that New Zealand will host an 'energy summit' next year aiming to link developing countries with the energy sector, private donors and aid donors to speed up the introduction of renewable energy in the Pacific Islands.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully said renwable energy was a focus of New Zealand's aid programme.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire