SECRETARY BLINKEN: Susan, thank you very much. And colleagues, it’s wonderful to see you all around this table. Thank you very much for being here. Welcome to the State Department. Welcome to the Benjamin Franklin room. You can see to my left Franklin watching us. He was the first American diplomat. He signed our first treaty. He did a few other things too: he mapped the Gulf Stream; he helped start the electricity; e development – ​​he developed our philosophy of self-government. And virtually none of that did he do while sober. (Laughter.) So I don’t think that will be a problem for us this afternoon, but I wanted to welcome you in his presence nonetheless.

And I’m so excited to be able to kick off the first-ever United States-Pacific Island Summit.

This summit reflects our deep and enduring partnership with the Pacific Islands, a partnership that is built on history, values ​​and enduring people-to-people connections. Together, we will discuss the challenges we face, exchange ideas and perspectives, and chart a way forward to solve the issues that matter most to our people.

I am very grateful to be joined today by Carol Spahn, Acting Director of the Peace Corps, Alice Albright, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation – two essential partners in teaming up with the peoples of the Pacific Islands to advance development in the region, which is what we are here today to discuss.

And I would very much like to thank Suzy for her leadership not only today in helping to moderate the discussion, but also for the exceptional leadership of the East-West Center, which really brings us together day in and day out. We appreciate that. Suzy, you have 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 Hawaiian and the first woman to lead the Center Is West.

This summit is the latest effort by this administration to hear directly from you about your priorities, your ideas, your hopes for the future of the region and the world, and above all how we can work together to try to achieve them.

Many of us were gathered at the Blue Pacific Partners Ministerial Meeting we hosted last week in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. We have brought countries together around the vision you and others have 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’ engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum in July; Under Secretary Sherman meets with many of you at the Pacific Islands Leaders Conference.

What I hope you take away from these commitments is that the United States shares your vision and that we are committed to helping achieve it.

It is a vision that recognizes that only by working together can we truly address the greatest challenges of our time facing all our citizens, from tackling the climate crisis and health emergencies, to promoting economic opportunity, to preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific. where every nation – no matter how small – has the right to choose its own path.

You can count on America’s partnership with you to rally other countries around this vision at major international gatherings – from the United Nations General Assembly to the COP to the Democracy Summit.

We also have the same vision for individuals. Like you, we want everyone to be able to choose their path, no matter who they are or where they were born, and have a chance to reach their full potential. This is what people-centred development is.

Achieving this goal requires that we find ways for people to learn and share ideas across communities, across borders, and this is going to be a key part of today’s discussion: deepening our interpersonal ties and our educational exchanges.

We do this through a number of programs, including ones like TechGirls, which brings high school girls from around the world to the United States for a summer exchange to gain the knowledge, skills, networks that will help them pursue higher education and careers in STEM – in science and technology.

Today we will also discuss ways to build resilience in the region.

One of the messages we 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 is also about preparing communities to cope with a wide range of interrelated shocks that we know have caused cascading effects.

It reflects the world we live in, where climate change is accelerating the spread of deadly viruses, where transnational criminal organizations threaten not only our security, through corruption and human trafficking, but also biodiversity, through the smuggling of wildlife and irreplaceable timber.

That’s why we’re partnering with you to build resilience at every level – from strengthening health security through better early warning and response systems for diseases like dengue fever, to launching a program called Economies blue waters, 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 must tell you, however, that I am particularly pleased as we begin our conversations, as we begin these two days with President Biden who will join us tomorrow, that we have also come together around a statement of partnership between the United States and the Pacific, which shows that we have a common vision for the future and a desire to build this future together.

So I’m very happy that we have that today, that we have agreed on that, and that will give us a roadmap for the work that we will do in the future.

Most importantly, I really look forward to having this conversation, to listening, to hearing from each of you so that we can be a better, stronger and more effective partner in the future that we are working to build together.

Suzy, with that, I’ll get back to you.

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