Last month, leaders from across the Pacific gathered in Suva, Fiji, for the 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM). The Forum provided a crucial opportunity for Pacific Island leaders to navigate subjects including climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and US-China competition. Heads of State, Government, and Territories were joined by leaders from the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP), including representatives from the East-West Center Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP). Civil society organizations like PIDP played a crucial role in regional discussions and strategic design for the coming decades.
The Pacific Islands Development Program, a unit within the East-West Center focused on Pacific issues, is uniquely positioned as the only CROP agency based in the United States. PIDP is focused on holistic, people-centered development, and supporting the Pacific diaspora. Dr. Mary Hattori, Interim Director, and Tolua Samifua, Community Engagement and Development Officer, represented PIDP at PIFLM. Both emphasized the significance of in-person dialogue and the opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues and community. “Having that front row seat and being part of that dialogue with other leaders was extremely meaningful,” shared Dr. Mary Hattori in an interview with East-West Center Young Professional Olivia Zeiner-Morrish. “It helped us to understand our potential contributions, not just to the United States and Hawai’i, but to the entire Pacific, and to the world.”
The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, a long-term vision for the region, was presented and finalized at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. The 2050 Strategy represents the commitment of the region to work together as one collective, in order to address challenges including climate change, development, and peace and security. “The 2050 Strategy was designed for the Pacific by Pacific Islanders—these are not expectations that are being imposed on us from outside,” said Dr. Mary Hattori. “There is a very strong sentiment that our own cultural values need to be honored and respected in the way that the strategy is implemented and achieved.” In the coming years, Pacific organizations including PIDP will work together to advance the 2050 strategy, identifying opportunities for regional collaboration.
As Pacific partners and allies strive for a sustainable and secure future, US commitments remain uncertain. Vice President Harris joined the Pacific Islands Forum virtually on July 12th, announcing the United States would deepen engagement in the Pacific Islands by increasing US funding and diplomatic attention, returning Peace Corps volunteers to the region, and expanding USAID. The United States, which currently has eight embassies in the Pacific, will establish two new embassies in the region, in Tonga and Kiribati. These commitments reflect a shift in tone from the United States. Continued presence in the Pacific Islands is crucial if the United States hopes to demonstrate a commitment to meaningful engagement.
Olivia Zeiner-Morrish is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from Trinity College with a B.A. in Political Science.