REMARKS: Secretary General Henry Puna at the Launch of the Theme of the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings

Remarks and Speeches
12 April 2024
“A Transformed & Resilient Pasifiki: Building Better Now”
Launch of the Theme of the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings
Remarks by Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
10 April 2024


* Your Royal Highness, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Ulukalala;
* Your Eminence, Cardinal Mafi;
*  Prime Minsiter Of Tonga Hon Hu’akavemeiliku and Ministers of Cabinet;
* Nobles of the Realm;
* Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
* Development Partners;
* Members of the Tongan Community…the old, the not so old, the youth, the private sector, the church community, and all who are present here today.

• Malo e lelei!
• It is an honour and a great privilege to be with you today here in the Kingdom, to mark the official launch of the dates and the theme, for the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings.
• The hosting of Leader’s Meeting is an exciting time for any country.
• It is your opportunity to showcase to the region, and to the world:
o your culture,
o your people; and
o your beautiful home.
• It is an opportunity for Tonga to reaffirm yet again, the strength of your resilience, the determination of your people, and the warmth of your hospitality.
• The success of this Forum rests, not only on the shoulders of your government, but on the shoulders of each and every Tongan here in the Kingdom, and across the world.
• We live in a region that continues to grapple with a multitude of challenges – economic, political and social.
• On top of this, we continue to contend with the climate-related threats to our economies and our well-being.
• But these challenges, while great, have not and will not deter us, from our efforts to work together to address them.
• Because, it is only in our unity, that we can truly overcome adversity.
[Reflections on Legacy]
• This 53rd Pacific Islands Forum sits at a very important juncture in our region’s history.
• It will, amongst other things, consider and decide the trajectory and direction of the regional architecture, that underpins and brings to life Pacific regionalism.
• Tonga’s leadership, diplomacy and foresight, as the incoming Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, will be vital.
• But regional leadership is not new to Tonga.
• Just over five decades ago, the Kingdom of Tonga was amongst a group of 7 Pacific Island Leaders who decided that they wanted to forge a new pathway in the region.
• Tonga, together with Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru and Samoa made a pact to form a political grouping of independent and self-governing states.
• That grouping has grown and evolved into what is known today as, the Pacific Islands Forum.
• Indeed, it was at their very first meeting in 1971 that the Prime Minister of Tonga at the time, H.R.H Prince Tu’ipelehake, tabled the proposal for a regional shipping line, building on the organisation of Tongan inter-island shipping at that time.
• It is stories like these that provide an insight, to your island nation’s early vision for regional cooperation.
• It is also a testament to the value, that your founding leaders saw in a grouping such as the Forum - the opportunity to learn from each other, and working together, to overcome the common challenges across our sea of islands.
• It would be remiss of me if I did not also acknowledge Tonga’s leadership, through a son of your island nation, Mahe Tupouniua – the first Director of the South Pacific Economic Cooperation Bureau.
• He led and grew the SPEC in the first 6 years of its existence, under the guidance and oversight of Leaders – setting the foundation for the Forum Secretariat, as we know it today.
[The 2050 Strategy – a long-term vision for the region]
• Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends
• As Tonga assumes the leadership mantle of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2024, it will be the 4th time that the Island Kingdom does so.
• Indeed, your recent history has shown the resilience and adaptability of the Tongan people, reaffirming that Tongan Proverb – Ala ‘i Sia, Ala ‘i Kolonga.

• We are a region in transition.
• We are re-setting our sails, to journey towards the achievement of the 2050 Vision, of the 2050 Strategy.
• The resilience and adaptability you have shown at the national level, will be critical for us at the regional level, as you move into the Chairing of the Pacific Islands Forum.
[Launch of the Meeting Date and the National Theme]
• But for today, we celebrate the Tongan people.
• We honour your willingness to assume the responsibility of hosting the region here on your shores, for the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum.
• From today’s launch and onwards, the journey to the opening formalities of the Leaders Meeting, will be guided by, and align with, the theme that your Government has chosen.
• Beginning today, you will inspire and ignite a wave of conversation, intent, planning and action at all levels of your community, to prepare this island nation to welcome the region in August.
• If there is one piece of advice that I can leave you as your Secretary General, and indeed, as a former Leader and Host of a Pacific Islands Forum, it is this:
The hosting of a Leader’s Meeting is not the sole responsibility of the Government of the day only, it is the honour and responsibility of the entire nation, and most importantly, your people. Embrace this honour and responsibility, at all levels of your community.
• That said, we stand behind you and with you in your preparations.
• We look forward to working with you, towards a successful outcome in August.
• Together we will ensure our efforts continue to secure a 2050 future of Peace, Prosperity, and Harmony for all Pacific peoples, across all our Pacific nations.
• Malo ‘aupito for inviting us to join you today for this auspicious occasion.
• I thank you and may God richly bless Tonga!