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Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Hold Talks in Apia

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 09 JUNE 2023: The Secretary General for the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) Henry Puna is currently in Samoa and met with Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa on issues pertaining to the region.

“I had an open sharing with Prime Minister Fiame and her thinking really aligns with what we think is happening in our region and more importantly how we can address those issues,” said Puna.

In his first visit to PIF member countries since the Covid-19 lockdowns, the Secretary General also met with members of the private sector and civil society in Samoa before he leaves for Australia tomorrow.

Geo-political interest in the Pacific
One of the issues he touched base on with Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame is the renewed geo-political interests in the region.

“I can say we picked up pace when the Solomon Islands had their security deal with China  and I think that was a wakeup call for our regional partners, especially with the US who has been absent from the Pacific for a long time,” said Puna.

He said what the US thought was their playground is now being taken over by China and it was unfortunate that the US President could not attend the PIF summit in Port Moresby recently where we could have followed up on the US commitment made in Washington.

“Fiame has spoken her mind on how she thought we should deal with these new developments, and what is very important in the face of these issues is that we must never abandon the Pacific Way,” said Puna.

With regards to the security interest of the superpowers in the region, most of PIF’s member states have adopted a “friend to all enemies” approach.

He said because the region is so small, they cannot afford to make enemies so they need to make friends with everyone but in particular cases, the international Governments have sided where their best interests can be served

“We must be aware of the potential danger of the current geo-political interests in the region and we want our leaders to focus on ensuring that whoever wants to partner with us does so on our terms and in alignment with our priorities,” said Henry Puna.

Although he sees opportunities in the current interest in the region, he said it could also be a temptation and a pitfall.

Never lose sight of the Pacific Way
Puna said the Pacific Way means everything to the region and it’s the foundation of collective Pacific Island countries and we should never lose sight or move away from it.

“The Pacific Way is similar to the Fa’a Samoa with its traditional way of addressing issues, sharing ideas and keeping a regional perspective and that is the Pacific cornerstone of our regionalism,” he said.

He believes the Pacific had moved away slightly from it in the past two years since the lockdown, but now we need to get back to it and our leaders are starting to revive and renew those policies and processes.

“I believe in regionalism and I believe that the Pacific way will endure into the future,” said Puna.

He referred to the COP 21 in Paris where the world came together to support a climate change issue pushed by the Pacific countries.

“Together we can make a difference,” he said.

Japan proposed waste dumping in the Pacific
Puna is pleased with the latest development over talks with Japan’s Prime Minister early this year over the Fukushima nuclear waste dumping proposal.

He said Japan has agreed to allow international experts to analyze the waste situation in Japan.

“We hired our own experts to advise us and I am pleased that finally Japan is opening up her door for international experts to analyse the situation and we must be careful not to undermine the expert’s authority,” said Puna.

He also said Japan’s Prime Minister agreed that there will not be any release until all PIF members are satisfied there will not be any risk danger to our oceans if they were to be discharged.

“It is a very sensitive issue, especially Japan being a longstanding partner and friend of the Pacific, so we have to navigate this issue sensitively,” Henry Puna said.

Asked if there was a timeline for experts to finalise the process, Puna said final steps are currently on the way with final discussions, but has already been approved in principle based on normal standards.

The Pacific leaders are concerned about it especially with unresolved nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands and a possibility of the US storing their nuclear waste on another Pacific atoll is a huge risk and we cannot afford to see anymore nuclear contamination, said Puna.

Talk on AUKUS
The Secretary General’s next stop after Samoa is Canberra where he will meet with Australia’s Prime Minister and one of the issues on their agenda is the Australia, United Kingdom & United States (AUKUS) Nuclear Submarine Deployment in the Pacific.

“PIF leaders are concerned that such deployment might lead to the nuclearization of the Pacific Ocean,” said Puna

He said PIF leaders and the AUKUS members should have an open round table discussion.