Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue
May 22, 2023
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Prime Minister, thank you very, very much. And colleagues, it is a great honor to be with all of you, to be with our Pacific Island partners. Prime Minister, I’m really grateful to you as our host for welcoming all of us to Papua New Guinea.
President Biden was very much looking forward to being here and to addressing Pacific Island Forum leaders before events in Washington required him to be there. He felt it was important for me to represent him to underscore to you our commitment to the region. And in fact, I’m carrying with me a formal invitation from the President for Pacific leaders to come back to Washington this fall for a second summit to continue conversations and develop new initiatives that are critical to our collective future. I know that the President is eager to welcome you in Washington again. The first summit was historic. Our second summit will help us really shape history together.
This is the second opportunity that I’ve had to be with the Pacific Island Forum. I very much appreciated the discussion last year in Fiji. Vice President Harris also addressed that meeting virtually. And in between those events, senior officials from across our government have regularly traveled to the region.
When President Biden launched the Pacific Island Summit last year, he pledged a new era of cooperation and partnership to deliver for our people. An era of mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit with the United States and the Pacific Islands working together to advance a shared vision for the region that’s free, that’s open, that’s connected, that’s prosperous, that’s secure, that’s resilient.
So we sometimes have formulas, phrases that we repeat to each other on a regular basis, and “free and open” is one of them. What do we actually mean by that? Well, for our part – and I think this is a shared view among everyone at this table – when we talk about free and open we mean a region where countries are free to choose their own path and their own partners; where problems can be dealt with openly, rules will be reached transparently and applied fairly; and goods, ideas, and people will flow freely and lawfully across land, the seas, the skies, and cyberspace.
Over the past year, the United States has been listening hard, listening to you, engaging with your governments, working to deliver on our summit announcements and align with your vision. Today, I think we can actually point to substantial progress on many of those commitments, acknowledging that more work needs to be done. And Prime Minister, I take very much to heart what you said about the need to have clear lines of visibility and accessibility so that we can continue to move forward on the agenda we set for each other.
But if you just look at what we’ve managed to accomplish over the past year as well as where we’re going. I think we do see tangible progress. We’re enhancing our diplomatic engagements in the Pacific. Last year, we inaugurated our new embassy building here in Papua New Guinea. I had a chance to visit it this morning. It’s an extraordinary facility, really a state-of-the-art building that I think reflects the value that place on our partnership.
We recently opened two new embassies in Solomon Islands and Tonga. We’re working to do the same in Vanuatu in Kiribati. We sent our first ever U.S. envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, Ambassador Frankie Reed, who is here with us today and has been hard at work to deepen our relationships across the region. America’s future is here in the Pacific.
We’re strengthening our partnerships on public health, the climate crisis, economic growth, and other key regional priorities that respond to people’s needs and expectations. By September, we’ll open a new USAID mission here in the Pacific Islands based in Papua New Guinea to advance those efforts.
We’ve also helped Pacific Island countries unlock more than half a billion dollars from international organizations to help communities manage the growing impacts of climate change, a challenge that we know President Biden feels strongly is existential for the Pacific Islands and on which the Pacific Islands have all led in the global community. Today, I am very pleased to announce the United States plans to be among the founding partners to support PIF in standing up the new Pacific Resilience Facility to support investments in adaptation and resilience.
We’re updating and enhancing the Compacts of Free Association with our close partners in the Freely Associated States. A little later today, we’re signing agreements with Palau, tomorrow with Federated States of Micronesia, and we’re looking forward to entering negotiations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands very soon.
As part of these agreements, the United States will commit more than $7.1 billion to the Freely Associated States over the next 20 years. We’ve also included an enhanced South Pacific Tuna Treaty. We just completed negotiations on a new 10-year economic assistance agreement which will support livelihoods across the region, boost our cooperation on priorities like combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. We know how essential, how vital this is, to virtually all of our partners in the region. We know the damage that it does to livelihoods and the threat that it poses to ecosystems that are quite literally nourishing your economies.
We’re advancing shared prosperity across our region by connecting American and Pacific companies and boosting trade and investment through new initiatives and new dialogue. We launched a new transportation partnership and strategic infrastructure initiatives aimed at unlocking over $450 million in financing for clean energy connectivity and for digital infrastructure. We held the first U.S.-PIF dialogue on trade and investment a little bit earlier this year and look forward to a ministerial level dialogue very soon.
And today, I can announce that our Department of Commerce will lead a U.S. business delegation to the Pacific Island countries in the coming year to look at concrete opportunities in energy, in transportation, in health care, in tourism, in telecommunications. We’re putting together a very strong delegation of leading American enterprises, and we very much look forward to doing that in a few months’ time.
Also deepening the already incredibly vibrant ties between our people, we’re partnering with Johns Hopkins University to welcome the first cohort of Pacific leaders at the U.S. Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders program this fall. That will (inaudible) the region’s brightest minds on the key priorities that (inaudible) time.
And we’re returning the Peace Corps to the region with volunteers already on the ground in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, and preparing to arrive in Vanuatu (inaudible) later this year.
We’re committed to building on all of this momentum generated in the last year, including by working through the Partners in the Blue Pacific to support 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
So in short, I think we’re making demonstrable progress on the agenda we’ve set for ourselves. There is more that we can do, more that we will do, more that we have to do. But it was very important for me to be here today to hear from all of you, our partners, on how we’re doing, how we can do even better, and how we can deepen all of the work that we’ve set for ourselves.
So thank you for the honor of joining you today. I’m so grateful to all of our colleagues for being here. I’m very much looking forward to this conversation, to listening to everyone’s ideas to everyone’s priorities to ensure that the United States is a strong, reliable, effective partner in the Pacific Islands in the future that we are building together.
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. (Applause.)