The Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, says Friday’s meeting honours the leaders who set up the organisation, 50 years ago.
The leaders of the Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Tonga and Samoa together with Australia and New Zealand met in Wellington from 5th-7th August 1971. This was the first South Pacific Forum meeting.
At the time, the only regional organisation established was the South Pacific Commission which was created in 1947.
The leaders of the newly independent island nations understood the external influences that existed in that regional body, which included colonial powers. It was clear another forum was needed.
The Forum’s membership has increased from the original seven founding members to also include the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
In 1999, the South Pacific Forum transformed into the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Today is a very special occasion, it’s a time of reflection, a time of honouring the legacy of our leaders who have gone before us, and honouring their wisdom in setting up this organisation back in 1971 in Wellington.
While they dealt with a range of issues at the time, issues that directly affected the lives of Pacific peoples, they had particular focus on trade, tourism, shipping and education,” he said.
“Those issues are still very important today for us but of course the world has changed a lot in 50 years and it’s a credit the values of the organisation that we have been able to change with world and come up with new priorities, that are of real importance to the region, such as climate change for example,” he said.
“And for me, one of the greatest achievements we have made as as a region, working together, moving forward, hand in hand, was the achievement at Cop21 in Paris in 2015, when the whole world signed up to the Paris Agreement.
For me, that was the defining moment in our collective effort as the Pacific Islands Forum.
There’s a need for Pacific regionalism and leadership on the climate and Covid-19 crises,” according to a Pacific academic.
Auckland University associate professor Damon Salesa said the forum is faced with its biggest crises in its 50 years.
“The next few decades are the critical moments for Pacific regionalism particularly around things like climate change, where the region has a global role and not just a regional one.
He also says the rise of ‘new actors’ in the Pacific means the need for regionalism now is even more important than there was in the past.
“We are seeing the re-emergence of in the Pacific the feelings about China playing a bigger role in the Pacific, so it’s great to see the US playing this bigger role but we know that that’s one of the things in the back of everyone’s minds,” he said.
The US President, Joe Biden, addressed the online meeting. He was invited by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, the Forum’s incoming chair.
Salesa is calling on the United States to help persuade Micronesia to return to the Pacific Islands Forum.