• By Bernadette Carreon

Pacific Summit opens in Samoa with focus on security and climate change

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the Ava ceremony, Samoan dancers

Apia, Samoa-The 48th Pacific Islands Forum officially opened Tuesday night as leaders from its 18 member countries were greeted with the traditional Samoan ritual--the ava ceremony--reflecting the summit’s theme of “The Blue Pacific.”

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, took over the chairmanship from Federated States of Micronesia President Peter Christian. Malielegaoi said that the member nations should work together as a collective voice for a sustainable and safe Pacific.

Set in the grounds of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, the ava ceremony is performed to mark an important occasion. It is a ritual in which a ceremonial beverage is shared to celebrate an occasion.

The event also included display of Samoan dances including the popular Samoan fire knife dance.

Malielegaoi in his opening remarks said that Pacific should show solidarity to face challenges in the region.

“For Pacific region and its island countries, the ocean is crucial, emphasizing a sense of common identity and purpose linked to the ocean has been critical for protecting and promoting and protecting our potential of shared Pacific Ocean, it is the commonality of the fundamental essence of the region which and has the potential to empower the region through the collective and combined agendas and action,” Malielegaoi said.

He said a single Pacific voice will strengthen the existing policy framework and harness ocean as a transformative, social, cultural and economic development of the Pacific.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor in her remarks during the ceremony said the Blue Pacific theme would strengthen the Pacific’s “ sense of a common identity.”

“We are all connected by the Pacific Ocean, whether we live just meters from its shores or faraway in the interior mountains and highlands of our diverse islands. I see the Blue Pacific providing us with a sense of identity that is fundamentally empowering; a common ocean identity that will enable us to think more innovatively about the way we work together, and with the wider world as we advance the political ambition of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism,” Taylor said.

Climate change and security issues in the region will dominate discussions in the forum.

The Forum members are Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Leaders of the summit will meet civil society members Wednesday and have a dialogue with the private sector in the afternoon.

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