Pacific Islands leaders have completed their first day of meetings with the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, with economic issues, health and COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and climate change on the agenda.
Today U.S climate envoy John Kerry held a climate roundtable with the leaders, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan joined them for a dinner hosted by the U.S Coast Guard.
AP reports that President Biden will address the leaders at the State Department on Thursday (tomorrow) and will host them for a dinner at the White House.
Leaders from Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, French Polynesia and New Caledonia are attending.
Vanuatu and Nauru are sending representatives, and Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General , Henry Puna are observers, according to the White House.
“This summit reflects our deep, enduring partnership with the Pacific Islands; one that’s underpinned by shared history, values, and enduring people-to-people ties,” U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken told leaders as he opened the summit.
AP reports that while the summit has been welcomed, there’s also a healthy scepticism about whether the United States will remain engaged for the longer term in the Pacific Islands.
The Solomon Islands had said it would not sign on to a joint statement that the U.S. hoped to have hashed out by the end of the summit in its earlier form. However U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has today said parties have agreed to a new partnership with the US.
Amongst statements by Pacific leaders today was Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown’s call for the U.S. and other developed nations to “move beyond political pledges to implementation and deliver on climate finance commitments.”
And Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Baimimarama said the leaders look forward to working with the United States to better integrate our economies, improve flows of trade; strengthen our educational links; increase two-way tourism and exchange; link our cultural institutions, and better link our schools and community organisations.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat says the sessions will shape the region’s collective partnership with the U.S. Government, “as it reviews and looks to strengthen its engagement in the Pacific region.”
Other issues flagged by the PIFS for discussion include strategic partnerships, maritime domains, IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing and law enforcement.
“Our Pacific Forum nations are here, at the invitation of the US government, and I know we can all appreciate the opportunity provided for everyone to have some forward-looking dialogue,” said Secretary General Henry Puna.
“This is a historic meeting for our region and under the guidance of our Leaders, I am confident that we can, and we will secure and build a partnership that will support the realisation of our Leaders vision and ambitions as outlined in the 2050 Strategy,” he added.