REMARKS: Keynote speech by Secretary General Baron Waqa at Pacific National and Regional Security Conference

Remarks for Secretary General Waqa
Pacific National and Regional Security Conference

Monday 24 June 2024, Suva, Fiji

•    The Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji and Member of the Forum Troika,
•    Honourable Ministers,
•    Your Excellencies and Representatives of the Diplomatic Corp,
•    Senior Officials of the Pacific Region,
•    Representatives of Security Sector in our Region,
•    Representatives of Civil Society,
•    Members of the Media,
•    Ladies and Gentlemen.

•    Ekamawir omo, bula vinaka and welcome to the Forum Secretariat.

•    It is my pleasure to welcome you all here to the home of Pacific regionalism.

•    And it is an honour to stand here alongside our friend, former Forum Chair, and the Forum Secretariat’s gracious host, Prime Minister Rabuka of Fiji.

•    Thank you, Prime Minister, for blessing us with your presence.

•    We gather here in these vaunted premises to discuss issues of paramount importance to Pacific peoples.

•    Issues that affect the core of what the Forum was established to protect and promote.

•    Issues of peace and security.

•    Peace and security matters are sometimes considered complex, challenging, confusing even.

•    But I don’t see it that way, and nor do Forum leaders.

•    The reality for Pacific Islanders is quite simple, and Forum leaders articulated it very clearly for us all in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent:

•    Forum Leaders’ 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.

•    Pacific peoples are peaceful, god-fearing and community minded.

•    We work together, as communities, bound together like the woven mats that adorn the walls of this great room, to support each other.

•    At the regional level it is no different.

•    Each Pacific Islands Forum Members forms a strand of our great and powerful Pacific regional mat, around which we gather, much like you are doing here today, to share our experiences, share our challenges, and share solutions.

•    We share so that we can achieve our goal of leading free, healthy and productive lives.

•    We share because we know that we are stronger together, using our collective knowledge.

•    Many of you will know that I’m from Boe in the southwest corner of Nauru.

•    Though small, with less than one thousand residents and being under one square kilometre, it might now be the most recognisable village name in the Pacific.

•    And that is of course because I had the honour, as Forum Chair, of welcoming Forum Leaders to Boe in 2018 to discuss regional security matters and launch the Boe Declaration on Regional Security.

•    I mention this because I remain very proud of the message that the Forum shared that day, which was as true then as it is today:

•    While the security of nation states is always a paramount concern for Governments, in the Pacific, the peace and wellbeing of Pacific peoples – the human element of security, must always be at the forefront of our minds.

•    And that is especially the case with regards to our Blue Pacific Continent, and the devastating impacts of climate change.

•    As I said in 2018, and as Forum Leaders have regularly reiterated, climate change is the single greatest threat to the peace and security of Pacific Islands peoples.

•    That must remain at the forefront of our minds this week, and it will remain at the forefront of my work on regional security throughout my tenure here at the Forum Secretariat.

•    In this regard, I am pleased to highlight that we are making great progress against our climate security goals, especially with the development of the Pacific Resilience Fund, which has received over 100 million US dollars of support so far.

•    Further, the Forum’s declarations on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea Level Rise and on the Continuity of Statehood and the Protection of Persons in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise are world-leading and gathering support around the globe.

•    The Boe Declaration on Regional Security, and its subsequent Action Plan, continue to guide the way we prioritise our work to ensure the Blue Pacific Continent is peaceful and secure.

•    We continue to prioritise climate security, human security, environmental security, cybersecurity and countering transnational organised crime.

•    Indeed, it would be remiss of me to not take this opportunity to highlight the recent launch the Pacific Transnational Crime Disruption Strategy, and we will soon formalise the Pacific Partnership for Prosperity on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime.

•    These are two key areas of focus for Forum members at present, aimed at helping Forum Members, many of whom are experiencing a terrible surge in drug-related issues and devastating cyberattacks.

•    Further, Forum members remain committed to enhancing the role of women and girls in all their diversity across all these priority peace and security focus areas.

•    These are the areas where Forum Members countries are focusing our attention. And the areas which we continue to ask our partners to focus their support.

•    I am pleased that these are the areas that this conference will focus on.

•    Many people ask us about international conflicts and geopolitical competition, and the effects they have on peace and security in the Pacific.

•    It is true that the impacts of conflicts occurring a long way from our shores are being felt by Pacific peoples.

•    The impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Gaza and tensions in the South China Sea continue to reverberate across the globe, and the Pacific is not immune.

•    On account of these developments Pacific peoples have been affected by supply chain disruptions which have added to inflationary pressures and made the cost of basic goods – food, medicine, fuel and so on- very difficult for many of our people.

•    In short, war, instability and a breakdown of peace anywhere in the world makes life more difficult for everyday citizens of the Blue Pacific Continent.

•    In this respect, I wish to reiterate what Forum Leaders said when I welcomed them to Boe six years ago.

•    Across the Blue Pacific Continent, we place great importance on the rules based international order founded on the UN Charter, adherence to relevant international law and the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means.

•    In terms of geopolitical competition my message is very simple and very clear.

•    Geopolitical maneuvering means nothing to Pacific peoples who have cyclones coming over the horizon.

•    Geopolitical maneuvering means nothing to Pacific peoples who have water lapping at their doorsteps due to sea level rise.

•    Geopolitical maneuvering means nothing to Pacific peoples who are focused on building resilience, peace and prosperity for our families, communities, nations and our region.

•    When you arrived here today, right at the entrance of the Secretariat, you came past the Nasonini Gun Battery, which was built in 1942 after the devastating effects of armed conflict found its way to our peaceful region.

•    When built, the Nasonini Gun Battery included three six-inch guns and a laser detection system.

•    Those guns, now thankfully long-since operational, serve as a reminder of the mess we can find ourselves in when foreign powers use our region as a theatre for their grievances.

•    The Pacific Islands Forum is blessed with the support of 21 Forum Dialogue partners from all corners of the globe.

•    In becoming Forum Dialogue Partners, these countries committed to supporting all Forum Member countries to achieve peace and security in the Blue Pacific Continent, supporting Forum Leaders’ priorities like those outlined in the Boe Declaration on Regional Security.

•    Those partners have all committed to continuous transparency in declaring economic, political, and strategic interests in engaging in the region, and that is a commitment we should all be regularly reminded of.

•    I look forward to working with all our Forum Dialogue Partners to help ensure all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy and productive lives.

•    In closing, let me leave you with a quote from Matthew chapter five, verse nine, which provides a great reminder for us all here this week.

•    It notes…  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’.

•    By being here this week, you are showing your commitment to peace and security in our Blue Pacific Continent.

•    You are showing your commitment to being the peacemakers.

•    Thank you for that commitment.

•    May it live on for many years to come.

•    Tubwa kor, vinaka and thank you

ENDS

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