Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Pacific Islands Forum
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
5:40 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. It is my honor to join you, and thank you for inviting me to participate in this gathering.
Prime ministers and presidents, Mr. Secretary General, distinguished guests, I am honored to be able to be with you today, virtually though it may be.
The history and the future of the Pacific Islands and the United States are inextricably linked.
We have historic bonds going back generations, and shared fights for freedom and for liberty.
We share deep ties between our people. And we are proud in the United States that there are 1.4 million people here that have Pacific Islander heritage, many of whom reside in my home state of California
And as a daughter of California, I know firsthand the incredible contributions Pacific Islanders have made to our culture and to our country. And we celebrate them, of course, as an integral part of the American story.
The United States is a proud Pacific nation and has an enduring commitment to the Pacific Islands, which is why President Joe Biden and I seek to strengthen our partnership with you.
We recognize 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.
Last year, President Biden was the first United States President to address this forum. Secretary of State Blinken traveled to Fiji this year and launched our Indo-Pacific Strategy. And in the months and years ahead, we plan to build on this foundation.
We will significantly deepen our engagement in the Pacific Islands. We will embark on a new chapter in our partnership — a chapter with increased American presence where we commit to work with you in the short and long term to take on the most pressing issues that you face.
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.
To start, the United States will launch the process to establish two new embassies in the region: one in Tonga, 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.
Today, I am also pleased to announce that we plan to triple U.S. funding for economic development and ocean resilience for the Pacific Islands.
We will request from the United States Congress an increase from $21 million per year to $60 million per year for the next 10 years. Sixty million dollars per year for the next 10 years.
These funds will help strengthen climate resilience; invest in marine planning and conservation; and combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and enhance maritime security.
I heard you speak of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. Regarding that treaty, we do believe it is a cornerstone of our political and economic cooperation, and we look forward to concluding negotiations.
I want to particularly thank Monica Medina, our Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, for her work on this issue and her leadership. She is with you in Fiji today.
President Biden and I consider our relationship with all of you to be a true partnership and a friendship based on mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual benefit.
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. But you are on the frontlines, 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.
We also intend to expand our overall economic relationship with you.
As part of that, we will pursue infrastructure projects that are sustainable, high quality, climate friendly, and, very importantly, that do not result in insurmountable debt.
We will continue to stand with you to address the COVID-19 pandemic and work with you to prepare for the next one.
We will also 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.
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.
At a time when we see bad actors seeking to undermine the rules-based order, we must stand united.
We must remind ourselves that upholding a system of laws, institutions, and common understandings — well, this is how we ensure stability and, indeed, prosperity around the world.
We will continue to work with all of you, and all of our partners and allies, to craft new rules and norms for future frontiers grounded in our shared values of openness, transparency, and fairness.
All of us convened here, we — we recognize there is so much we can do together. We have a strong foundation. And we will build on this and embark on a new chapter, all in the spirit of partnership, friendship, and respect.
President Joe Biden, myself, and our entire administration look forward to working with you as we chart our shared path together.
This gathering is critically important to the United States. And so I thank you again for the opportunity to address you and to be with you. And I thank you.
END 5:50 P.M. EDT