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United States Vice President Kamala Harris speaking to Forum Leaders virtually yesterday.
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President Biden pledges closer partnership with Pacific region

BY BEN BILUA
Suva, Fiji

UNITED States President Joe Biden’s administration has stepped up its relationship with Pacific Islands Forum countries embarking on renewed bilateral and multilateral assistances.

Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement when addressing forum leaders virtually yesterday.

In her speech, Mrs Harris mentioned a number of programmes and funding assistance that would improve the United State of America’s presence in the Pacific while injecting more funding to the Pacific region.

She says the United States is in the process to establish two new embassies in the region: one in Tonga and one in Kiribati. 

“We will also appoint the first-ever United States Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum.  We will return Peace Corps volunteers to the region. 

“And USAID is taking steps to expand its footprint to include re-establishing a regional mission in Suva, Fiji.

“All of these steps will enable us to increase our engagement, and develop and deliver concrete results,” Harris says.

She told forum leaders that United States will deepen its engagement in the Pacific Islands as both United States and Pacific Islands Forum countries embarked on a new chapter in US/Pacific partnership.

“We recognise that in recent years, the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve.  So today I am here to tell you directly: We are going to change that.

“In recent months, we have discussed many of these issues with you.  We have consulted extensively and candidly.  The result is a series of actions that are responsive to your priorities and, we believe, will facilitate our engagement moving forward.

“We will engage transparently and constructively, which means we will listen, collaborate, and coordinate at every step of the way.  We will also work to empower a strong and united Pacific Islands Forum, which will strengthen your voice on the world stage as we continue to work together.

“We will also better coordinate our efforts with allies and partners.  And to do that end, we recently launched the Partners in the Blue Pacific, which includes Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and, of course, the United States.

“All of this work recognizes that our partnership with the Pacific Islands spans a wide range of issues.

“With respect to the climate crisis, for example, you are on the frontlines of an existential crisis for our entire planet …and the world’s emissions have an outsized impact on your nations.

“The evidence, of course, is that sea levels are rising.  The coral reefs that protect your islands and foster fisheries are bleaching.   And ocean warming is accelerating.

“This is why, as we work with the world to reduce emissions, we will continue to partner with you to build resilience, support adaptation, mobilize climate finance, and ensure sustainability of fisheries and marine resources,” Harris says.

She adds that United States is also intended to expand the overall economic relationship with Pacific Island countries.

Harris says United States will pursue infrastructure projects that are sustainable, high quality, climate friendly, and, very importantly, that do not result in insurmountable debt.

She also says United States will continue to stand with Pacific Island nations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will continue our leadership combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, because we know that it devastates fisheries and coastal states like yours.

“We also want to build on our existing work together with regard to food security, with regard to maritime security, education, and disaster relief.

“All of this work together presents an extensive agenda, but each of these issues is incredibly important to this region and to the United States.

“And there is one last principle that I believe must guide our work.

“In this region and around the world, the United States believes it is important to strengthen the international rules-based order — to defend it, to promote it, and to build on it,” Harris says.

“These international rules and norms have brought peace and stability to the Pacific for more than 75 years — principles that importantly state that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states must be respected; principles that allow all states, big and small, to conduct their affairs free from aggression or coercion,” she adds.


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