Dame Meg Taylor, who has concluded her term as secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, appealed to the exiting member-countries to stay in the regional bloc, saying the Pacific is stronger as a group.
“I believe in the ocean-continent and the blue Pacific, and the strength of the group,” Dame Taylor said.
Dame Taylor, who took the helm of the Forum in 2014, completed her stint on May 26 and was succeeded by Cook Islands former prime minister Henry Puna.
She left the position with regrets about the Forum split. Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati have begun the one-year exit process in protest against the Forum’s decision to pick Puna over their candidate, Gerald Zackios, a Marshallese diplomat.
While acknowledging the cultural and political differences among members, Dame Taylor warned of the consequences should these issues continue to widen a rift, into which special interest groups will squeeze themselves.
“If we divide into our sub-regions, and then get played off by geostrategic interests, our own interests as a collective will be severely undermined. And that’s the way I look at it,” Dame Taylor said in an interview with Pacific Island Times.
Holding a region together was a challenging task, she said. “And there are natural affiliations, and cultural affiliations, and political affiliations. But the role of the region as a Pacific Island Forum is the interest of the whole,” Dame Taylor said.
Puna earlier announced a plan to hold a political dialog to try to resolve the crisis in the Forum.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., however, shrugged it off, reiterating that his nation is definitely out the door.
Observers warned that the regional crisis further creates a wider opening for China to expand its clout.
In a press statement last week, Fiji’s Special Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola acknowledged Taylor, “for her leadership and huge contributions to the region as the secretary-general of the Forum.”
“Just thinking back on just what has been accomplished. And I think I leave I things every secretary-general leaves with some concerns and those concerns you carry with you,” Dame Taylor said.
“And you pray that those who take over the leadership, and others that you’ve worked with here, will implement and make sure that the secretary responds to what leadership wants,” she added.
Dame Taylor said the impacts of climate change will continue to be a concern in the Pacific.
According to scientific data, climate change will result in an increased sea level rise, warmer oceans, extreme weather events, which could lead to loss of livelihood and economic hardship, especially on vulnerable small island states.
Dame Taylor said she is leaving the forum with what she sees as unfinished business of climate change.
“I’m trying to think of, you know, you go through moments of lows when you see on the climate issues, particularly that the voice of the Pacific, and the hard work that’s been put in by our island countries, and raise it at the United Nations,” she said, “and the impact it’s going to have on our countries and last night’s news telling us that within the five years, we’re going to go over 1.5 degrees,” she told Pacific editors in a virtual talanoa session on Friday.
She said the future of life in the Pacific, if climate change is not addressed, is worrisome.
“So, you know, I’m concerned about the future, I’m concerned about the issue of sea-level rise and what’s going to mean for our maritime boundaries,” said Dame Taylor.
SOURCE: PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES/PACNEWS