Guam to join Pacific Islands Forum
By Frank Whitman
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero announced that Guam would apply for membership in the Pacific Islands Forum.
“The Pacific Islands Forum is seen as the united front for all the Pacific island leaders,” she said during a press conference on Monday. “It’s the forum that is in unity and will strengthen our voice in the Pacific Islands here with the United States.”
Leon Gurrero recently returned from President Joe Biden’s two-day U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, D.C. where she was able to connect with leaders from more than a dozen Pacific island nations. She attended as a part of the U.S. delegation to the first-ever such summit, which was held Sept. 28 and 29.
During the summit, the participants met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations Joseph Yun, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell and other administration officials.
Guam was “recognized as a key player in this part of the world,” Leon Guerrero said during a press conference at the Ricardo J. Bordallo Governor’s Complex at Adelup. “We are the epicenter of national security here in Guam. As a result of that, our notoriety and our importance is impacted and is very much acknowledged to the point that in the first session I was actually sitting right next to the secretary of state.”
The seating was indicative of the role Guam plays in the region, Leon Guerrero said. “(The seating) is because of our stature and our importance in the whole national security realm of the United States and because, also of our great relationships with the federal government, ” she said. “They saw us as a great impactor and influencer with our island nations.”
She noted that included in the 18 PIF members are Australia and New Zealand in addition to smaller island nations. As a U.S. territory, being a full member in the PIF would indicate that Guam is on an equal level with the island nations, she said.
At the end of the summit, the U.S. unveiled its Pacific Partnership Strategy. The strategy is to reflect a commitment by the U.S. to elevate “broader and deeper engagement with the Pacific Islands as a priority of its foreign policy,” according to a statement from the White House.
The strategy includes four objectives:
· A strong U.S.-Pacific islands partnership.
· A united Pacific islands region connected with the world.
· A resilient Pacific island region prepared for the climate crisis and other 21st century challenges.
· Empowered and prosperous islanders.
Included in the strategy is a commitment by the U.S. to appoint a special envoy to the Forum. The U.S. also committed to opening an embassy in the Solomon Islands and to begin discussions with Kiribati, Tonga and other countries about opening embassies in those nations.
“Where gaps in permanent presence remain, we will pursue additional facilities and creative solutions to provide the Pacific Islands with the diplomatic attention they deserve,” the White House stated.
Among the many points outlined in the strategy to fulfill its goals is the return of Peace Corps volunteers this year to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu, according to the White House. The U.S. will explore the possibility of expanding the program in the future.
“I certainly supported (the return of the Peace Corps),” Leon Guerrero said. “And all the island leaders welcomed it.”
The CEO of the Peace Corps was at the summit, Leon Guerrero said. “They’re ready to push out about a thousand Peace Corps (volunteers) for the reestablishment of the Peace Corps,” she said. “She feels the people in the United States are very excited to do that. We may have a situation where there’s more than is needed.”
Summit participants welcomed the U.S. back to the Paris Agreement on climate change, Leon Guerrero said. It pulled out of the agreement in 2020.
Biden announced at the summit that it is providing $810 million for programs “to improve the lives of Pacific Islanders,” he said, according to the White House.
The programs are primarily for projects to protect against the effects of climate change, which summit participants called an “existential” threat, Leon Guerrero said.
Such projects include addressing the water needs of low-lying atolls, raising land, and providing for food security and crop security, according to Carlotta Leon Guerrero, the governor’s chief adviser for military and regional affairs, who accompanied Gov. Leon Guerrero to the summit.
“The U.S. was also talking about how some of this money is going to go toward early warning systems, beefing up weather systems and technology to help get the data in so the local and federal governments will be able to have an understanding of what’s going to be coming their way.”