US territories back Pacific strategy
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Caught in a tug of war between the United States and China, island nations have agreed to bridge the gap between the North and South Pacific and stand as a unified bloc to deal with regional issues collectively and guard their sovereignty.
At the conclusion of the 12th Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) meeting last week, Pacific leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Continent, which addresses pressing challenges posed to the island nations and territories such as the growing geopolitical tension and climate change.
Recognizing that the region has become a theater for the superpowers’ battle for dominance that brings increased pressure from Washington and Beijing, Pacific island leaders shared views “on how to manage relationships with these countries” during the three-day regional conference held at the East-West Center in Honolulu.
“While there was a broad consensus across attending delegations that the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent can and should be the top priority moving forward as a Pacific region,” said David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia and chair of PICL.
Themed “Pu’uhonua: The Pacific Way Forward,” the regional conference was touted as “a safe space for active engagement and dialogue between Pacific islands regardless of their political status.”
“A series of sessions over the course of the conference created space for Pacific leaders to dialogue with non-PICL member countries including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and the United States,” states a press release from PICL.
Non-member countries were given the opportunity to discuss “the current state of their respective country’s engagements in the region.”
“PICL leaders focused on the need for international partners to demonstrate greater commitments and action in their engagement with Pacific Islands nations and territories while respecting ‘the Pacific Way,’” PICL said.
Besides regional security and climate change, the Pacific strategy also addresses economic growth and development, healthcare and education development.
“With respect to the Pacific Islands Development Program, which is the Secretariat of the PICL, attending delegations agreed that PIDP is uniquely capable at handling and supporting islands in bridging the gap between the North and South Pacific,” Panuelo said. “Supporting PIDP in bridging this gap is something I am proud to do as chair of the PICL.”
The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which originally covered only members of the Pacific Islands Forum, has expanded to include Guam, America Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii.
The U.S. jurisdictions—which are members of the PICL but not the Pacific Islands Forum— have since “described their in-principle agreement with the strategy that the Pacific Islands Forum and its membership have thrust their full support behind,” Panuelo said.
The 12th PICL also discussed issues such as the Pacific’s nuclear legacy in the context of the Runit Dome in the Marshall Islands, and Japan’s plan to discharge water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean.
The conference was attended by delegations from Hawaii, American Samoa, Cook Islands, the FSM, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, the NorthernMariana Islands, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who attended the conference, met Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna and discussed Washington's commitment to enhancing U.S. engagement with the group and reiterated the White House's plan to appoint an envoy to the Forum.
The following leaders (or their designees) and accompanying delegations from Pacific countries and territories attended the 12th PICL:
Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialegā Mauga - American Samoa (virtual participation)
Tepaeru Kiteitekata Herrmann - special envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, Cook Islands
Kandhi A. Elieisar - Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Federated States of Micronesia
Faiyaz Siddiq Koya - minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Republic of Fiji
Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu - Minister for Culture, Environment and Marine Resources, French Polynesia
Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio - Guam
Gov. David Ige - Hawaiʻi
President David Kabua - Marshall Islands
Chitra Jeremiah - Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Republic of Nauru
Dalton Emani Makamau Tagelagi - Premier, Niuē
David Atalig - Secretary of Finance, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
President Surangel S. Whipps, Jr. - Palau
Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa - Sāmoa
Jeremiah Manele - Minister of Foreign Affairs, Solomon Islands
Prime Minister Huʻakavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni - Tonga
Prime Minister Kausea Natano - Tuvalu