The announcement was made at Canada Place to a room filled with UBC students, faculty and administators, as well as business leaders, MPs and cabinet ministers. UBC President David Strangway introduced the prime minister.
The year will culminate in November 1997 when Vancouver plays host to the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting, APEC '97.
Chretien was on his way to APEC '96 in Manila, where he will meet with representatives of 18 other Pacific Rim economies to plan trade and economic development in the region.
"The future of Canada will depend a great deal on our presence in the Pacific, and the gateway to the Pacific is B.C. We are very happy with the dynamism of the business community and the university community who are helping to prepare the province and the rest of Canada to be the leaders of the Pacific," Chretien said.
This January, one of the first formal events of Canada's Year of the Asia Pacific will take place at UBC as the university co-hosts the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum.
The forum brings together distinguished legislators from more than 20 Pacific Rim nations to discuss matters of mutual concern and interest. It will be the first time the forum is held in Canada.
Canada was a founding member of the forum, which was established in Tokyo in 1993.
Among its goals are: understanding policy concerns, interests and experiences; examining political, social and cultural developments; encouraging and promoting regional co-operation; and encouraging regional cohesion, understanding and co-operation.
Also in January, Strangway has been asked to join the prime minister and Team Canada on a trade mission to Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines. Strangway has been a member of the team on previous missions to Asia.
Strangway said these activities are very much in keeping with the university's long-standing interest in the Asia Pacific. UBC has a vital role in developing relationships and increasing knowledge about the region.
"Knowledge is a great builder of bridges across regions. The more we understand about other areas, the more we can work together -- and that benefits each of us," Strangway said.
"This is why links with Asia Pacific are important not only to UBC and British Columbia, but to all of Canada. New knowledge means new opportunities--and new opportunities mean employment for young people and prosperity throughout our society."
About 80 UBC students, representing different constituencies across campus and all sharing an interest in the Pacific Rim, were on hand for the prime minister's announcement.
Gisèle Yasmeen, speaking on the students' behalf, thanked the prime minister for sharing his vision of Canada's role in the Pacific Century.
Yasmeen, who recently completed work on a PhD in the Geography Dept., studied urbanization, food systems and gender in Southeast Asia. She was also an intern at the Asia Pacific Foundation's APEC Study Centre.
"Those of us who work in the Asia Pacific region are thrilled with this announcement," she said.