Honourable J.V. Bainimarama, CF (Mil), OSt.J, MSD, jssc, psc
Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei Affairs and Sugar Industry
CHAIR OF THE 51st PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
6 August 2021
The Honourable Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu and Outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum
Excellencies and Colleague Leaders of the Pacific
The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
Our people of the Blue Pacific joining us this morning via live stream
Bula Vinaka and good morning to you all.
I thank you all for accepting my invitation to convene this morning to officially begin the 51st Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings and to mark our 50th Anniversary as the Pacific Islands Forum.
I can only hope that I will be able to continue the inclusive and strong leadership that Prime Minister Natano has shown during his tenure as our Chair.
I know all of you will share this. We, Leaders and people of the Blue Pacific are indebted to Prime Minister Natano and the people of Tuvalu and they have our deepest appreciation and gratitude.
Indeed, one of the smallest amongst us has led us with such tenacity and skill during an extraordinary period of our history – Vinaka saka valalevu; Prime Minister Natano and your brilliant Team of Officials.
I also take this opportunity to thank Dame Meg Taylor our past Secretary General for steering the Forum throughout these difficult times with fortitude, wisdom and elegance. I am indebted to her for her consistent efforts to rebuild Fiji’s relationship with the Forum – Tenkyu tru Dame Meg and indeed, Vinaka vakalevu to the Government and people of Papua New Guinea for allowing her to serve the region over the last 6 years.
By the same tenor, I am pleased to welcome our new Secretary General, His Excellency Henry Puna. I spoke with you just yesterday but allow me formally welcome you to this, your first Leaders’ Meeting as Secretary General – we will look forward to working closely with you.
Excellencies, amongst our ranks this morning is the Honourable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa of Samoa – a warm welcome to you Madam Prime Minister. It is always a proud moment when a daughter of the Pacific ascends to this High Office – I know yours was not an easy passage but we are very proud to welcome you this morning.
It would be remiss of me if I did not also acknowledge your predecessor the Honourable Tuilaepa for his service to Samoa and the Blue Pacific region over the last 2 decades. Indeed, ours was a friendship that could be likened to the ocean – we had our share of rough passages but it was a friendship that was always honest and genuine.
Excellencies, the region we represent today has evolved significantly from the region that once was, when our founding fathers met in Wellington on the 5th to the 7th of August 1971. That was a time of hope. Many of our island member states were headed to independence. Others were starting off their life as newly independent states.
Today, we meet in a world that is in turmoil. The Pacific region that is beset by a runaway climate crisis; a raging COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening socio-economic crisis – a perfect storm.
The last 18 months have taught us lessons about the pace and nature of change. It has taught us lessons about the need to be able to respond to multiple vulnerabilities at the same time. It has taught us about the importance of building consensus and working together.
It has reaffirmed for me that our region needs bold and decisive leadership to respond to these extraordinary challenges. Our region needs to be able to adapt and change with times. However, our pathway to recovery and sustainability must also be one that is anchored to a shared; an inclusive and a consistent vision. These are times of great hope then; not unlike the meeting in Wellington some 50 years ago to this day.
Excellencies, we are at a defining juncture in our history.
Today, we commemorate 50 years of the Pacific Islands Forum. We celebrate 50 years of Pacific regionalism. We pay tribute to 50 years of collective action. We pay tribute to the vision of our founding fathers. We celebrate our success as a region like no other.
Indeed, as we honour our collective achievements of the last 50 years, it is also an important opportunity for us, as Leaders, to not only reflect on how far we have come as a collective and but to also identify where we need to adapt and how we need to evolve.
Collective action through our shared sovereignty has never been easy. It has, time and again, required us to put the best interests of our Forum Family, ahead of that of our own national interests.
In the Pacific, it has been a necessary part of our history as a region. As individual island states, we are too small to make a mark on the global agenda.
As a collective, we are stewards of our shared Blue Pacific – one fifth of our planet’s surface. We can be ignored only at the peril of those who choose to do so.
Together, we have consistently strengthened our advocacy on climate action and cemented our leadership on ocean governance. We have built an open, democratic, inclusive and a peaceful region.
This Pacific Islands Forum has proven to be the strongest collective demonstration of our aspirations, priorities and advocacy. It continues to be the strongest political representation of the people we serve across our Blue Pacific Continent – the World’s largest continent.
In order for us to continue to be so, we must address the heart of the challenge we face as a Forum Family.
To our Micronesian Brothers, I offer my deepest apologies – we could have handled this situation much better but I remain confident that we will find a way forward together.
I hope that we will use this meeting, as an opportunity for a frank dialogue on the challenges before us. We are a Forum Family and indeed, it is only in a family that one can have the frankest dialogue.
Whilst I do not expect us to resolve our issues today, I am hopeful that this meeting will provide me, as your Chair, the guidance and wisdom required to frame the much-needed dialogues that will resolve our differences and restore our belief in a renewed regional solidarity that is capable of responding to the scale of challenges that we now confront.
People and communities across the Pacific expect this of us and I have no intention of letting them down.
Together we will reweave our regional solidarity. The challenges we face as a region are testing our solidarity.
The expectations that States and Pacific peoples have of our collective are evolving. This our 50th Anniversary is an opportune moment to ask ourselves, is the Forum fit for purpose? And if not; how must it change and evolve?
I am confident that continued ongoing dialogue will nurture understanding; and stronger understanding will infuse empathy; and with empathy – strong and considered resolutions will emerge.
Whilst our current political challenge is the key challenge before us today, it should not distract us from our long-term aspirations and our vision on where we are headed as a region.
There is an important lesson that I have always held on to from my years of service in our Navy. A good captain knows how to chart a course but greater captains know how to adapt – how to read changing winds and adapt to stormy seas. Without losing sight of their North Star, they adjust for the wind, plan for changing currents and sail around the storms.
Excellencies, the 2050 Strategy for our Blue Pacific Continent will be our North Star. As we chart our course as a region and as an organisation for the next 3 decades, the 2050 will take forward our ambition and our determination for a sustainable and inclusive future for all our people.
It will encapsulate how we can best work together. The 2050 Strategy will be our shared vision. At its core, it will uphold the cultural, economic and strategic aspirations of people and states across our Blue Pacific.
In a fast-evolving world, where political decisions are increasingly settled based on geopolitical considerations – how we act as a collective, how and who we engage with, and how we progress our shared priorities will define if we fail our peoples and communities or if we succeed in protecting and lifting them. None of us can do this alone. None of us – not even Australia, the largest one among us.
Excellencies, I firmly believe that the 2050 Strategy will set the tone and articulate the quality and type of Pacific regionalism that will emerge from our current challenges in the region.
Indeed, I had initially hoped that when we convened here in Fiji for the 51st Pacific Islands Forum, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic would be behind us.
This, unfortunately, is not the case – a lesson, yet again, of the unpredictable nature of change and a reaffirmation of why we need to be clear about our collective vision and aspirations.
Excellencies, the road ahead is uncertain, but I am confident that we all have the best interest of our Blue Pacific at heart and together, we will work through the challenges before us.
Before I conclude, allow me to also thank you all, on behalf of the people of Fiji, for your generous support; your solidarity and your prayers for people of Fiji as we respond to the heart breaking COVID-19 pandemic.
I am determined to achieve 80 percent immunisation by October. As we reopen our skies soon thereafter, I will look forward to continuing our talanoa in Fiji, in person, over a bowl of kava in the very near future.
Vinaka saka vakalevu.–ENDS