News 17 Jul 2020
17 July 2020, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
We, the Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum comprising Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu remain deeply concerned by the COVID-19 pandemic globally and in our Pacific region. This Joint Statement outlines how we, as a Blue Pacific Continent, are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with our common respective values and principles.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives and suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are deeply grateful to frontline workers, who have contributed to controlling the spread of the virus and, in many cases, put their lives on the line to ensure the well-being of others. We acknowledge the assistance provided by regional and international organizations and development partners in supporting us as we prepare for and respond to this unprecedented crisis.
Although the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Pacific region has been limited compared to that in other areas of the world, the pandemic poses unique challenges for our oceanic continent. The island geography of the region, the limited medical infrastructure in many countries, and the communal ways of life shared throughout the Pacific and which bind us, mean that even one case of COVID-19 in any country represents a major threat. COVID-19 also exacerbates the existing threats facing our Blue Pacific region, none greater than climate change. This was brought home in early April by Category-five Tropical Cyclone Harold, which claimed lives and wreaked devastation in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.
In response to the impacts of COVID-19, countries throughout the region have worked tirelessly to ensure that the virus and its effects are halted. Nationally, this work has included measures such as closing borders, locking down cities and enforcing travel and social restrictions. We have also taken regional action, holding Foreign Ministers and Regional Taskforce Meetings through the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), to establish and operationalise the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 (PHP-C). We are working with the UN, WHO, WFP, CROP agencies and other organisations, recognising the importance of a coordinated and unified regional response. In this way, we have pushed toward a truly Pacific response to this pandemic. Although separated physically, we have worked collaboratively and acted as one to protect Pacific ways of life through our shared values as a region.
In response to COVID-19, Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum invoked the Biketawa Declaration, a framework developed in 2000 for coordinating responses to regional crises. The Biketawa Declaration recognizes that, in times of crisis, all actions must be taken on the basis that Pacific countries are an extended family of island nations. This is the Pacific Way. During recent Forum Foreign Ministers and Regional Taskforce Meetings, the chairing nation, Tuvalu, highlighted the te fale-pili concept. This concept literally refers to houses in close proximity to one another and implies that all households have a moral responsibility to care for and protect their neighbours.
In the Pacific, our values encourage us to look to our shared responsibilities. These include our responsibilities to ourselves but also, and more importantly, to our parents, to our families, to our communities, to our nations, and to our region. We are interdependent and work through consensus in all things. Considered discussion, rather than negotiation, characterizes our methods of problem-solving and requires agreement among all parties. We recognize the importance of supporting our neighbours as if they were members of our own families and communities. We are as responsible for how COVID-19 affects our Blue Pacific region, as we are for how it affects our individual nations, and must develop solutions that are amenable to all within our region.
This knowledge drives our joint response to COVID-19. We act as a region, embracing our responsibilities to ourselves and to our neighbouring nations. We respect the sovereignty of individual countries as they work to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. We are also cognizant that, in our deeply interconnected Pacific, joint efforts towards regional collaboration on medical, humanitarian, and logistical assistance will define the ultimate success or failure of our response to, and recovery from, COVID-19. In the same manner as all Pacific nations share stewardship over the Pacific region, we too share a collective responsibility to respond to this pandemic.
We, as Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers, call for a Pacific regional response to COVID-19 that (i) respects the sovereignty of individual nations; (ii) respects the cultural values of individual countries and the entire Pacific region; and (iii) promotes shared regional responsibility for responding to COVID-19 in recognition of the Pacific as a deeply interconnected family of nations. It is only through these principles that we can overcome the threat of COVID-19 in a truly Pacific way that suits our region and that will pave the way for further shared regional action.
We also call for a unified global recovery to COVID-19; one that builds a healthy, prosperous and secure world for all and recommits to multilateralism to address our shared challenges. COVID-19 has significantly disrupted our economies and societies. We must now rethink, plan and collaborate, working together to build back countries and economies that (i) leave no one behind; (ii) protect the health and wellbeing of all; (iii) preserve our natural and marine environment; (iv) are low emission and climate smart; and (v) build our resilience to future crises. We must come out of this pandemic more unified, safe and resilient, as one Blue Pacific and one Blue Planet.
Image: Pacific Islands Forum member flags at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji Source: PIFS