INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY DAME MEG TAYLOR,
Public Lecture by the Right Honourable Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
USP Laucala Campus
Monday, 9 July
It is an honour to speak at this distinguished lecture, on the occasion of the Official Visit of the Right Honourable Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to Fiji and indeed to the University of the South Pacific.
It is perhaps also apt, that we are here at this institution this afternoon to speak on the topic of regionalism.
As you are all aware, the University of the South Pacific celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Since its establishment in 1968, it has remained one of our region’s greatest examples of regionalism; and the benefits we share from pooling our collective resources for the betterment of our people.
There is no doubt, that the region that we live in today has vastly evolved from what it was when this institution was first established.
The current global context is a time of profound change; and this change is taken place at an unprecedented pace. Geo-strategic competition between major world powers has once again made our region a place of renewed interest; and strategic importance.
Within this context, at the Forum Leaders meeting in Apia last year, Leaders instructed to the Secretariat to engage in consultations to refresh our existing security arrangements to meet the regions current and future security challenges – currently coined Biketawa Plus.
Forum Leaders saw the need to expand and strengthen collective action for regional security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritizing environmental security and building resilience to impacts of natural disasters and climate change.
This has been aptly stated by Fiji’s Minister of Defence and National Security, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola last month that “At the heart of all this is ensuring that this new declaration will enable us to work better collectively to forge a secure and stable environment that will enable all our Pacific peoples to live free and worthwhile lives”.
Following extensive consultation with officials; and Foreign Ministers in the coming months, Leaders will meet in Nauru in September to consider this work coordinated by the Secretariat.
Honourable Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, if we are to ever realise the full potential of Pacific regionalism, then now is the time.
The current moment calls upon the region to be steadfast in our solidarity in order to secure the integrity of our ocean sovereignty, cultures and resources.
An issue of critical concern in this regard is securing our maritime boundaries. The 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories manage 20% of the world’s ocean in their Exclusive Economic Zones. There are 47 shared boundaries in the Pacific and 33 treaties have been signed since 1974 between countries.
The settlement of maritime boundaries provides certainty to the ownership of our ocean space, which is vital for our Pacific cultures and critical for managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and fighting the impacts of climate change.
We know we are facing an increasingly crowded and complex Pacific region with a range of both new and old partners seeking to increase their influence here. A key driver of the increasing interest and complexity of our region is China’s growing aspirations.
It is important to acknowledge that many Forum member countries have strong economic and political ties with China.
At the same time it is important that we are all aware of and understand the real opportunities and potential challenges presented by these developments
Realising the potential of Pacific regionalism in the today’s context will require a range of focused political conversations in order to establish the foundations for the future of our region.
To date, our collective Pacific voice has remained largely absent from global debates over the international rules based order, challenges to multilateralism and the increased focus on the maritime domain.
We need to ask ourselves how do we, as a region, position ourselves in this new global context?
How can we leverage the increased attention in our region for driving our own political and development ambitions?
How can we ensure that we set the terms for engagement and negotiation on what happens in our own region?
Our Leaders have already given us the policy direction for thinking through these sorts of questions; with the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the Blue Pacific narrative.
Let me reiterate the importance of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism which enables focused political conversations and settlements on key strategic priorities that will drive the Leaders’ vision for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy and productive lives.
The Blue Pacific narrative endorsed by Leaders in 2017 deepens and contextualises the ambitions of the Framework. It helps us to understand, in our own terms based on our unique customary values and principles, the strategic value of our region. It guides our political conversations towards ensuring we have a strong and collective voice, a regional position and action, on issues vital to our development as a region and as the Blue Pacific continent.
Ladies and gentlemen, in recognising the strategic value of our Blue Pacific in the new global context, our Leaders are taking actions to help realise its potential. For instance:
In November this year, the Honourable Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea will host the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby. This meeting provides an opportunity to being shaping our region’s strategic and economic engagement with Asia.
Similarly, under the leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister of Fiji, the Pacific has been able to raise its voice on the global stage on the critical issues of climate change and oceans. Fiji’s Leadership at COP23 and the UN Oceans Conference was instrumental in enabling the Pacific to influence processes and agreements vital to managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and fighting the impacts of climate change.
Honourable Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, while much remains uncertain in the current global order, one thing that we can be sure of is that we must face the future together if we are to secure the wellbeing and potential of our ocean continent – the Blue Pacific.
I thank you.