Honourable Leaders of our Blue Pacific Continent;
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Henry Puna;
Heads of Delegation of our Forum Associate Members; Observers, CROP and International Agencies;
Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates.
Ni Sa Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
It is my great honour to welcome you to our home this morning.
Leaders, as this is our very first formal engagement with each other this week, please allow me to afford you a welcome befitting of this occasion.
So, to my fellow Leaders, may I say how wonderful it is that we are able to gather here for our first face-to- face meeting as the Pacific Islands Forum since 2019. COVID-19 may have kept us apart for a time, but I am pleased we can gather here this week as family.
Let me also extend a warm welcome to our Heads of Delegation from Associate Members and Forum Observers, and indeed our Heads of CROP.
Excellencies, before we go further, may I ask that we all stand and observe a brief moment of silence, in remembrance of former Leaders of our Pacific region who have been called to rest, our loved ones who have succumbed to COVID-19, including the tragic and untimely death of former Prime Minister of Japan, the Honourable Shinzo Abe last week.
Please join me, as we remember their lives.
Excellencies, it is timely that we gather here for this continuation of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum, as there is much for us to consider.
While we emerge from the grip of COVID-19, our world and our region remain in a state of turmoil.
At home, many of us continue to deal with long standing socio-economic challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Our sources of revenue have been hit hard, while our communities and public health systems have been heavily impacted.
We continue to deal with a runaway climate change crisis, in which we will soon find ourselves on the brink of no return.
Climate change is hurting our peoples’ security and livelihoods. It is damaging our economies, and in many instances, it is threatening our very sovereignty, as climate-induced sea level rise threatens our EEZs.
On top of this, the global geo-political landscape is hotly competitive, as we see a multi-polar system emerge featuring major superpower rivalry, alongside a number of middle powers all clamouring to shape the world in their favour. We have seen this in our region over the past few months.
Added to this, the Russo-Ukraine war has further complicated global political and economic stability, and our economies, already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, must now contend with the added economic impacts of this conflict.
Excellencies, by way of balance, we have many strengths and many opportunities as individual countries and as a region.
Our people are youthful and innovative. Our cultures provide natural resilience and social protection to buffer the shocks we face. We have significant natural resources on land, and particularly in our ocean.
In this context, I offer that the most important consideration for us this week is this:
How will we, the Pacific Islands Forum choose to navigate these challenges and opportunities as we voyage into the future?
-Will we forge ahead together?
-Will we take individual paths?
-Will we be assertive, or will we leave it to others to decide our fate?
Excellencies our connections are anchored in the ancient past where our ancestors once sailed and traded, bringing us together as peoples of the Pacific. These connections anchor our unity today, giving us common identity and purpose.
Excellencies, in addition to unity, we need a vision and we need a plan. This brings me to the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
I am pleased to note that we will have the opportunity to consider the Strategy in our retreat on Thursday.
I am confident the 2050 Strategy will serve as our “North Star” for the decades to come, providing us with a long-term vision, and a sense of our shared trajectory in the key themes and strategic pathways that it sets out.
The success of the 2050 Strategy begins and ends with us, Leaders. If our ancestors were the architects of Pacific regionalism, we are its custodians. It is the quality of our dialogue, debate and the direction that we offer that will determine the success of the Strategy, and the direction of Pacific regionalism more broadly.
Excellencies, with that said, this 51st Forum is an opportunity for us to put a stake in the ground.
It is an opportunity for us to declare – that as a family united, we will come together, we will seize our shared opportunities, we will leverage our shared strengths and resources, and we will combat our challenges together.
It is an opportunity for us to declare – that business as usual can no longer be our way.
It is an opportunity for us to declare – to our youth that we will fight for their survival, their security, and their prosperity; and
It is an opportunity for us to declare – to the world around us, that we are the Blue Pacific Continent, we are the owners and the custodians of these lands and this ocean, and we will work together to secure, protect and leverage our resource for ourselves and our generations to come.
Excellencies, in closing, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge our brothers and sisters from Micronesia.
I acknowledge again the breakdown in our connections over the past 2 years. My hope is that through our dialogue mechanism, and the resolutions that we are working towards, that you continue to find value and indeed belonging within the Forum family.
Excellencies, there are lessons we can learn from our predecessors this week. Starting with the nurturing of our relationships with one another.
The programme before you is designed to ensure that we come together, and that we re-establish our bonds and our connections.
Excellencies, I wish you all the very best in your endeavours this week.
Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you.