Cook Islands well-positioned to demonstrate and uphold strong regional leadership: Puna


Cook Islands is well-positioned to demonstrate and uphold the strong regional leadership that we need to ensure that we, as the Blue Pacific, are able to capitalise on the opportunities before us today, says Forum Secretary General Henry Puna.

Puna in his special Parliamentary address in the Cook Islands Parliament today said as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and host of the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting later this year, the Cook Islands has the distinct responsibility to shape the region’s direction on some of these key and emerging issues.

“This is no small fete, and it will require the collective wisdom of the leadership of this house and the support of the people of this great country.

“In saying so, I also recognise that regional leadership and innovation is not new to the Cook Islands.

“Papa Arapati Henry was amongst the five founding leaders who came together to form the South Pacific Forum in 1971, today known as the Pacific Islands Forum.

“He was instrumental in the negotiation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and he was strategic in his vision on the value of the Ocean to our economic aspirations as a nation.

“Leaders who followed in his footsteps, built on his vision which culminated in the Ocean Governance framework that you have today, in the form of Marae Moana – a legislation that was thoroughly consulted and enjoyed bipartisan support in this very house.

This is yet another gem that we can offer the region, as an innovative example on the alignment of sustainable development and conservation, in the interest of and for our people,” Puna told members of Cook Islands Parliament.

He said the Cook Islands transformation in 2012 of its own development narrative from that of a Small Island Developing State to one of a Large Ocean State was captured in the region’s settlement of the Blue Pacific identity.

“Similar to the notion of Large Ocean State, the Blue Pacific identity demonstrated a regional policy shift in our own ideology: from a collection of vulnerable island states, to a cohesive and unified collective that together, occupy an increasingly important strategic space in the world,” said SG Puna.

Puna also praised the leadership of Forum Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.

“Under his guidance, the Cook Islands has demonstrated leadership on the Fukushima Issue with the Government of Japan – in alignment to the commitments under the Rarotonga Treaty.

“Under his guidance, the Cook Islands is exploring transformative and innovative partnership modalities in support of regional priorities, through the Forum Chair led initiative, Pacific Partners for Prosperity.

“Under his guidance, the region will elevate its advocacy for the reform of the global financial architecture and development finance, in the context of debt and resilience.

This advocacy was carried to the G7 Summit in the last month – where he became the first Pacific Island Leader to attend and address the world’s 7 largest developed economies collectively,” said Puna.

Puna said the strong political support secured from the U.S Government for the Pacific Resilience Facility, as the result of PM Brown consistent advocacy for this regional resilience initiative with Partners.

“I am confident that partner Governments will also follow the lead demonstrated by the U.S. in support of this home-grown initiative, that will respond to the challenges we face in accessing development finance for the region.

“The Cook Islands continues to punch far above its weight at the regional and global stage, and I look forward to continuing to support Prime Minister Brown and Pacific Leaders, as we move towards the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum later this year,” Puna emphasised.

Puna also highlighted the region continue to witness an increasing intensity of strategic interest and attention in our countries.

“We see the elevation of security-driven partnerships, development co-operation, dialogues and strategies both in, and with the region.

“Firstly, that we, as a region, are in the strongest strategic position in our history to progress our collective priorities and moreso, to shape and influence the global order;

“Secondly, we can only leverage this strategic interest, including durable and sustainable partnerships, if we remain united as a region; and

“Thirdly, stability is essential in the face of the multifaceted challenges we face in economic recovery, climate adaptation and the strengthening of our social systems and processes,” said Puna.

He said the Pacific cannot and must not return to “business as usual” as a region and as individual nations.

“We must capitalise on the current strategic interest in our region.

“We are in a window of opportunity that will not last long and we must continue the innovative momentum gained during the pandemic.

We must strengthen our strategic leverage as a collective, and be clear about our strategic priorities as a region, and as individual countries,” SG Puna stressed.