REMARKS BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL
2023 HIGH LEVEL CONSULTATION TO FRENCH POLYNESIA: UNIVERSITY OF FRENCH POLYNESIA YOUTH EVENT
19 October 2023
Venue: University of French Polynesia
Professor Jean-Paul Pastorel, Vice President of the University of French Polynesia;
Students and youth of the University;
Ladies and gentlemen.
Ia ora na and warm Pacific greetings.
Mauruuru no ta outou fariiraa mai i teie mahana.
Thank you for your warm welcome.
I must say that I take great joy in engaging with the youth of our region, and I thank the convenors of this important event for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you on Pacific regionalism; French Polynesia’s place in the Blue Pacific continent; and what this may mean for you, our leaders of today and tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have had a wonderful week in your beautiful country. And as I look out into the audience, I am pleased to see youthful, motivated, energetic and determined faces, looking back at me, ready to accept the challenge of leading their country into the future.
I am filled with a great sense of optimism.
As I stand here, I am reminded of the progressive evolution of our region over the last 50 years. Indeed the Forum was founded in 1971, with the emergence of newly independent Pacific states seeking a platform to discuss issues of mutual collective interest.
Today our membership has grown from its original seven founding members to eighteen full members. Indeed the most recent additions to our Forum family were French Polynesia and New Caledonia in 2016 when Forum leaders met in the Federated States of Micronesia.
At the time, I was the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and I take immense pride as an advocate for their inclusion. Being here this week has reaffirmed my strong belief that French Polynesia was indeed ready to become a full and active member of our Forum.
These accomplishments were no mean feat, and are a culmination of decades of struggle, sacrifice and dedication by generations of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. While our forefathers may have sowed the seeds for your future, it is up to you make good on the opportunities that are before you now.
Our story is still very much being written, and this generation of Pacific youth are becoming the main characters in this journey.
It is my firm belief that it is you, our young people, who will deliver the aspirations of our people. That belief stands stronger now more than ever, especially through these times facing our Blue continent, and our Blue Planet.
With more than half the population of our entire region under 24 years of age, youth leadership must shape our future.
Your contributions bring a sense of hope, urgency, and fresh perspectives to our policy discussions. You continually remind us that we are not passive victims of the challenges we face, but active agents for change, innovators, and champions of resilience.
Drawing from our rich cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, we have adapted to a changing environment for generations. Today, we complement this wisdom with cutting-edge science and technology to monitor, model, and mitigate and capitalise on the opportunities and challenges we face.
In this regard, I encourage you to connect with your Pacific cousins across the Ocean. I often have the pleasure of engaging with the youth of another great regional institution, the University of the South Pacific, and I strongly encourage you to connect and exchange ideas, to form new alliances, to explore new opportunities.
Regionalism can take many forms and is certainly not only reserved for us ‘experienced’ folk.
Your voices hold significant weight in the decisions we make and the policies we formulate because it is your future, your livelihoods, and the well-being and security of future generations that are at stake.
As aspiring leaders, you don’t have to look far to see how things are changing across our region. Less than a week ago at the New Zealand General Election, New Zealanders elected Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke to the New Zealand Parliament, a 21 year old Māori woman, defeating New Zealand’s longest serving female MP and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia is a dear friend of mine, and I know that she will be hurting from the election results. But I can assure you that she will be ever proud of young indigenous wāhine stepping up for their people, and carrying on the mantle.
We are ready to pass on the mantle, and nothing brings us more joy than watching our confident, strong, grounded youth find their feet on the platforms laid for them by their communities, past and present.
I find this deeply inspiring, and hope that you do too. You are not only the leaders of tomorrow, because in your own right, you are also the leaders of today.
As we look further to the future, last year at the 50th anniversary of the Forum in Fiji, our leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent as the blueprint to advance Pacific regionalism for the next three decades – articulating the region’s long-term vision, values and thematic priorities.
The 2050 Strategy reflects our collective determination to address pressing challenges, including economic development, our environment, people centered development, peace and security and other critical regional issues that have a collective impact on our region.
In two weeks’ time, our Forum Leaders will convene in Rarotonga to consider the Strategy’s Implementation Plan.
It is through the 2050 Strategy and Implementation Plan that we will engage with each other, and others beyond our oceanic borders. Rest assured, this Strategy has your ownership and interests written through it.
While there is a growing focus on the external strategies of foreign interests in our region, our Forum Leaders are determined to drive the strategic and development priorities of the Blue Pacific, guided by the 2050 Strategy.
And please allow me to be frank on the matter of geopolitical competition and interest in our region.
We in the Pacific have more to offer foreign interests, than they have to offer us. We must harness these empowering narratives to truly appreciate our true value as key global players on key global matters. And I want you, our youth, to command that respect that we deserve.
In this sense, I want to draw on important concepts that I believe are critical to the pathway of French Polynesia into the future. It is an appreciation for balance and patience.
As a former leader myself, I fully appreciate the need for pragmatic approaches to leadership and governance. Balance can at times be the most difficult of tasks to strike. But when done correctly, and with the consultation and patience of the people, there is great opportunity for progress and change.
As I draw my address to a close, I want to touch on the important Pacific principle of respect and appreciation for culture and our elders. We must find ways of retaining these important principles as our societies develop, and contextualizing the contemporary realties of the globalised world we live in today.
So, while I call on youth to take up the mantle of leadership in their own right, I encourage you to also embrace your culture, your history, and your communities, to strike a balance of old and new.
Finally, I would like to leave you with the Vision of Forum Leaders, as articulated in the 2050 Strategy:
our vision is for a resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy and productive lives.
It is a vision which continues to require the active involvement of our young, who will carry the torch forward.
The question I will put to you then – and I speak directly to our youth and future leaders in the room – is what role will you play in French Polynesia realising the vision of our leaders?
In my personal opinion, your participation is a pre-requisite to the success of this vision.
Meitaki maata – Māuruuru roa – I thank you.–ENDS
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