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State of Pacific Regionalism: Make the most of what we have

State of Pacific Regionalism – Making the most of what we have

An Opinion-Editorial by Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum

The Pacific continues to face significant challenges to realising its political and development ambitions. The current context of global political, economic and environmental uncertainty is likely to further exacerbate the vulnerabilities and dependencies the region currently experiences.

Current economic uncertainties for example appear to have left a huge gap in terms of the financing required to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Environmental uncertainties mean that climate change and environmental disasters will increasingly impact on our region’s ability to sustain and ensure a resilience of its development gains.

Political uncertainties mean traditional alliances can no longer be assumed and commitment to multilateralism is wavering on a number of fronts.

To respond effectively in this context, we as a region will need to be resolute in making the most of what we have to drive the political and development outcomes that we seek. We can mitigate the many uncertainties of our rapidly changing world by focusing our energy on our collective strengths.

One of our strengths is our shared Pacific Ocean. For many countries and regions of the world, the ocean may be of marginal importance to their political and developmental ambitions. But for the Pacific region and our island countries, the ocean is centre point and crucial.

I believe therefore that we can give renewed impetus to harnessing the ocean as a driver of a transformative change in the Pacific’s socio-cultural, political and economic development. This is what I believe can contribute to the ambition of deeper regionalism which Forum Leaders have endorsed through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Recognising the centrality of the Pacific Ocean lies at the heart of the theme chosen by Samoa as host of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting from September 4th (2017): “The Blue Pacific: Our sea of islands provide for our secure future through sustainable development, management and conservation”.

Previewing this theme at the Oceans Conference in New York in June earlier this year, the Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi stated that “placing The Blue Pacific at the centre for Pacific Regionalism can provide a new narrative and new opportunities for development in the Pacific”. Prime Minister Tuilaepa emphasised how we can recapture the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean through The Blue Pacific.

The Blue Pacific aims to strengthen our collective identity as one ‘Blue Oceanic Continent’. In this way, it builds on the recognition by Forum Leaders in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism of the importance of a sense of common identity and purpose to enable the region to overcome common constraints, and enhance sustainable, resilient and inclusive development within the Pacific region as-a-whole.

I believe that The Blue Pacific will be a powerful narrative for us, and capable of transforming views –held both within and outside our region – that our region is small, isolated and non-influential in global affairs. Through The Blue Pacific, we can assert with confidence our region as the Blue Pacific Continent, a continent of immense value.

Our ocean geography presents both challenges and opportunities for the Pacific that can be most effectively addressed by working together. For example, the recent escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States have shown that shifts in global power relations and tensions around the Pacific Rim have important implications for the security of The Blue Pacific.

However, in a context where global issues traverse the Pacific, an assertion of shared oceanic sovereignty may provide the basis for an important preventive diplomacy role to protect the security of the region and promote global peace. An example of when the Pacific used its geography to promote regional peace and security was through the establishment of the Rarotonga Treaty.

Our ocean geography can also enable greater connectivity, not only within our sea of islands but between regions and continents. For example, Latin American leaders have emphasised how the Pacific could be central to helping China extend its “Belt and Road” Initiative across the Pacific Ocean to Latin America: we as a region should be a part of this conversation.

Our shared ocean resources continue to be a significant source of economic wealth for Pacific island countries. Coming together as The Blue Pacific will, I believe, enable us to amplify our voice in international negotiations on oceans governance.

This will be particularly significant in proposed negotiations in the United Nations (UN) for a new Implementation Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity on Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

Linking our shared ocean geography and shared ocean resources can enable us to develop new ways of thinking about global and regional ocean governance and how we protect and measure the value of The Blue Pacific. For example, what might thinking as one ‘Blue Oceanic Continent’ mean for the way we approach global discussions on maritime boundaries and areas beyond national jurisdictions (ABNJ)?

Most commonly, our ocean wealth is associated with fisheries and there is continued interest in exploring the potential of seabed mineral resources. However, there are also emerging opportunities for valuing the contribution of the environment to national economies in terms of its ecosystem services and biodiversity.

The Framework for Pacific Regionalism demands ‘game changing solutions’ to the development challenges faced by the region. By asserting the geostrategic power and wealth of our shared Pacific Ocean, we have the potential to empower the region through collective agendas and actions and deliver transformative impacts for Pacific Island peoples.

[ends]

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