SECRETARY BLINKEN: Suzanne, thank you very, very much. And colleagues, it is wonderful to see you all around this table. Thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the State Department. Welcome to the Benjamin Franklin Room. You can see to my left Franklin looking out over us. He was America’s first diplomat. He signed our first treaty. He did a few other things too: he charted the Gulf Stream; he helped pioneer electricity; he development – he developed our ethos of self-government. And virtually none of this did he do while sober. (Laughter.) So I don’t think that’ll be a problem for us this afternoon, but nonetheless I wanted to welcome you in his presence.
And I am truly delighted to be able to kick off the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit.
This summit reflects our deep and enduring partnership with the Pacific Islands, one that’s underpinned by a shared history, values, and enduring people-to-people ties. Together we’ll discuss the challenges that we face, exchange ideas and perspectives, and chart a way forward to deliver on the issues that matter most to our people.
I am very grateful today to be joined by Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn, Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Alice Albright – two essential partners in doing the work of teaming up with the peoples of the Pacific Islands to advance development across the region, which is what we’re here today to discuss.
And I’d very much like to thank Suzy for her leadership not just today in helping to moderate the discussion, but exceptional leadership of the East-West Center, which really brings us together day in, day out. We’re grateful for that. Suzy, you’ve dedicated most of your life to strengthening ties between the United States and our Pacific partners, and I just want to congratulate you on becoming both the first Native Hawaiian and the first woman to lead the East-West Center.
This summit is the latest effort on the part of this administration to hear directly from you about your priorities, your ideas, your hopes for the future of the region and the world, and especially how we can work together to try to achieve them.
Many of us were together at the Partners of the Blue Pacific Ministerial meeting that we hosted last week in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly. We brought together countries around the vision that you and others set out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
Today’s discussion also builds on the Pacific Leaders Summit that our gracious hosts in Fiji convened in February – grateful for that; Vice President Harris’s engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum in July; Deputy Secretary of State Sherman’s meetings with many of you during the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders.
What I hope that you take away from these engagements is that the United States shares your vision, and we are committed to help realize it.
It’s a vision that recognizes that only by working together can we actually tackle the biggest challenges of our time that confront all of our citizens, from combating the climate crisis and health emergencies, to promoting economic opportunity, to preserving a free and open Indo‑Pacific where every nation – no matter how big, no matter how small – has the right to choose its own path.
You can count on the United States partnering with you to rally other countries around this vision across major international gatherings – from the UN General Assembly, to COP, to the Summit for Democracy.
We also have the same vision for individuals. Like you, we want every person to be able to choose their path, no matter who they are or where they’re born, and have a chance to reach their full potential. That’s what people-centered development is all about.
Delivering on that goal demands that we find pathways for people to build knowledge and to share ideas across communities, across borders, and that’s going to be a key focus of the discussion today: deepening our people-to-people ties and our educational exchanges.
We’re doing that through a number of programs, including ones like TechGirls, which brings high school-age girls from across the world to the United States for a summer exchange to build the knowledge, the skills, the networks that will help them pursue higher education and careers in STEM – in the sciences and technology.
Today, we’ll also discuss ways to build greater resilience across the region.
One of the messages that we’ve heard loud and clear from Pacific Island leaders is that building resilience is about more than equipping communities to adapt to the effects of the climate crisis, which for many of you is an existential threat; it’s also about preparing communities to weather a wide range of interrelated shocks that we know have caused cascading effects.
That reflects the world that we live in, where the changing climate is accelerating the spread of deadly viruses, where transnational criminal organizations not only threaten our security, through corruption and human trafficking, but also biodiversity, through smuggling irreplaceable wildlife and timber.
That’s why we’re partnering with you to deepen resilience across the board – from bolstering health security through better early warning and response systems to diseases like Dengue, to launching a program called Resilient Blue Economies, which will strengthen marine livelihoods by supporting sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, tourism. Today, I am very pleased to announce that the United States will contribute $4.8 million to this new effort.
I have to tell you, though, that I’m especially pleased as we start our conversations, as we start these two days with President Biden joining us tomorrow, that we have also come together around a declaration of partnership between the U.S. and the Pacific, one that shows that we have a shared vision for the future and a determination to build that future together.
So I’m very pleased that we have this today, that we’ve agreed on it, and it will give us a roadmap for the work that we’re doing in the future.
Most important, I’m really looking forward to this conversation, to listening, to hearing from each and every one of you so that we can be a better, stronger, more effective partner in the future that we’re working to build together.
Suzy, with that, back to you.
- Chief Executive Officer Carol Spahn ↑