7 Aug 2013

Kiribati leader says new body won't take over Forum

5:13 pm on 7 August 2013

The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, says a new Fiji-led regional group will not take over the Pacific Islands Forum.

Mr Tong is one of six Pacific Island country leaders attending the Pacific Islands Development Forum which was set up in response to Fiji's suspension from the lead political regional grouping, the Pacific Islands Forum.

He told Sally Round it's important for Fiji to contribute to a united Pacific Islands voice on issues like climate change.

ANOTE TONG: I think its structure is different. I think even the people participating and the countries participating are different. There are countries actively participating here that do not participate in the forum, and I think, more importantly, what we have here is the private sector, the civil society groups which are part of the process of sustainable development. So its format is different. We're not sitting together around the table as leaders. We're actually talking and we're getting feedback and there's that interaction. So I believe it is healthy. I believe it is necessary to address the issues which are being raised here.

SALLY ROUND: What about the political context of this meeting, the fact that it was set up in response to fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum? Do you think that is hampering it in any way?

AT: No, I think perhaps because of that, this is why the need for this has been created. I think there is a need for everybody to be involved no matter what the political issues are. I think on an issue like climate change, it's not about politics. I've always said that. It's not about economics. It's about the survival of this planet and certainly the survival of a number of countries. So, personally, we'd prefer to see a very frank interaction so that we are actually serious in addressing the issues. In this context we want as many to participate in it as possible. Governments alone cannot do it. The private sector is possibly the one always looking at the profit and loss statement and always figuring in what is the carbon price here? So it's very relevant and it's very important that they should be involved.

SR: And can those two fora exist alongside each other - the PIDF and the PIF?

AT: The PIF is pretty much a political forum, and it has remained very much a political forum. I don't see any reason why they should not. Already we have a number of different levels of interactions between the Forum Island Countries - at administerial level, at technical level, at special... For example, the Pacific community itself specialises in technical areas. Here, we have perhaps somewhat of a different mix where we have the private sector, the civil society, interacting together with government officials and, on occasions, leaders. And I think it's something that always needs to be done, except that leaders don't always have the time to talk to people like that. But I think it is important that we do make the time to do that.

SR: There's talk about this being a chance for Pacific Island countries to come up, make decisions on their own and have a united voice, but is there not a risk with another regional body of diluting the Pacific voice?

AT: I think the Pacific voice.... If you look at the countries that are participating in this, if you look at the countries which are supporting this, they're coming from different sides of the planet. As I understand, the financial support from this forum is actually coming from the Middle Eastern countries. So for us it's the first time we have interacted with countries in the Middle East, and we find this very exciting. We can see benefits flowing because of this opportunity to network. There's nothing wrong with that. If anything, it would enhance the Pacific voice. Previously, because of the politics of the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiji is not involved. It is important that Fiji should not be totally excluded from everything else that's happening in the Pacific, because they are in the Pacific, they are part of the Pacific. And I think re-engaging them in a different forum, I think it does not detract from the suspension of the Pacific Islands Forum, but I think it highlights the reality that we could never really disengage from Fiji, including the rest of the islands in the Pacific, because we do have one Pacific Ocean.