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One of the critical concerns that Pacific countries need to deal with if they are to secure the integrity of ocean sovereignty and resources is to secure maritime boundaries, says Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor.
“The settlement of maritime boundaries provides certainty to the ownership of our ocean space, which is vital for our Pacific cultures and critical for managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and fighting the impacts of climate change.
The 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) manage 20% of the world’s ocean in their Exclusive Economic Zones. There are 47 shared boundaries in the Pacific and 33 treaties have been signed since 1974 between countries.
And Dame Meg didn’t mince her words when she emphasised, “The current moment calls upon the region to be steadfast in our solidarity in order to secure the integrity of our ocean sovereignty, cultures and resources.”
“If we are to ever realise the full potential of Pacific regionalism, then now is the time, she told a large gathering of students and invited guests at the University of the South Pacific Public Lecture on Monday.
She acknowledged that new and old partners are seeking to increase their influence in the Pacific. A key driver of the increasing interest and complexity of our region is China’s growing aspirations.
“It is important to acknowledge that many Forum member countries have strong economic and political ties with China.
“At the same time, it is important that we are all aware of and understand the real opportunities and potential challenges presented by these developments, said Dame Meg.
Realising the potential of Pacific regionalism in the today’s context will require a range of focused political conversations in order to establish the foundations for the future of our region, she added.
To date, the collective Pacific voice has remained largely absent from global debates over the international rules-based order, challenges to multilateralism and the increased focus on the maritime domain.
“We need to ask ourselves how do we, as a region, position ourselves in this new global context? How can we leverage the increased attention in our region for driving our own political and development ambitions?
How can we ensure that we set the terms for engagement and negotiation on what happens in our own region?
“Our Leaders have already given us the policy direction for thinking through these sorts of questions; with the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the Blue Pacific narrative.
The Blue Pacific narrative endorsed by Leaders in 2017 deepens and contextualises the ambitions of the Framework.
“It helps us to understand, in our own terms based on our unique customary values and principles, the strategic value of our region. It guides our political conversations towards ensuring we have a strong and collective voice, a regional position and action, on issues vital to our development as a region and as the Blue Pacific continent.
Dame Meg said recognising the strategic value of our Blue Pacific in the new global context, Pacific Leaders are taking actions to help realise its potential.
“In November this year, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea will host the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby. This meeting provides an opportunity to being shaping our region’s strategic and economic engagement with Asia.
“Similarly, under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Fiji, the Pacific has been able to raise its voice on the global stage on the critical issues of climate change and oceans. Fiji’s Leadership at COP23 and the UN Oceans Conference was instrumental in enabling the Pacific to influence processes and agreements vital to managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and fighting the impacts of climate change, said Dame Meg
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