The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, said China’s security offering for the upcoming 53rd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meeting to be held in Tonga from 26 – 30 August, this year, is not an issue for the Pacific.

“This issue is a lot more complicated.”

He said Wednesday, that reading the news carefully, we can see that this issue is not emanating from us in the Pacific islands, “so it’s not an issue for us in the Pacific.”

Secretary General Puna was in Nuku’alofa this week for a preparatory meeting for PIF and made the comments after the Tonga government’s launch of the PIF theme, at Fa’onelua Centre.

“We are committed to a regional peace, that’s why we are the Pacific Ocean. The ocean of peace, so let’s live up to that!” he said.

The Secretary General warned the Pacific, especially for the upcoming PIF leaders meeting, to not be hindered by the “outsiders’ geo-political games”.

Last week, Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku told a media briefing that there was no reason to be concerned about the security assistance offered by China, with Tonga’s hosting of the Forum leaders meeting in late August.

China offered security help for Tonga, assisting with motorcycles and supporting vehicles.

“Even if it’s police training or if a police team would be necessary, of course we will take up the offer,” PM Hu’akavameiliku said.

Tonga will host the the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meetings from 26 – 30 August, 2024 in Nuku’alofa, with the theme “Transformative Resilient Pasifiki; Build Better Now.”

Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala unveiled the Government’s chosen theme and logo at a special launch event attended by the Forum Secretary General Henry Puna, at the Fa’onelua Convention Centre, in Nuku’alofa.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku, as the incoming Chair of the 53rd PIF Leaders Meeting, said it would focus on results.

“Tonga understands first hand the importance of building resilience at all levels, community, national, and regional,” he said.

Tonga has the opportunity to champion the idea of transformative resilience at this meeting, “drawing on its own unique experiences of the last few years.”

He recalled the devastation of Cyclone Gita (2018), the HTHH volcanic eruption (2022) followed by the arrival of Covid-19, which combined to cause unprecedented damaged to Tonga’s homes, families, villages, and economy.

On top of these challenges, the PM noted, “we have dealt with transnational crime, with rising energy and goods prices, and at the same time, our education and health indicators have lacked due to the disruption of natural disaster.”

Education and health are areas that Tonga wishes to prioritise in this year’s Forum.

He said the members of the Forum are facing common challenges, including health, education, and the same need for financing to keep our public and private sectors afloat.

“With our unique vulnerabilities, we must build resilience into everything we do,” he said.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, encouraged the Forum’s members that by working together, united, to overcome adversity.

“We live in a region that continues to grapple with the multitude of challenges, economic, political, social and climate related threats. But while these challenges are great, they have not and will not deter us from our efforts to work together to address and overcome them because the truth is, it is only in our unity that we can truly overcome adversity.”

“The success of this Forum rests not only on the shoulder of your Government, but on the shoulders of each and every Tongan here in the Kingdom and right across the globe.”

Puna also noted that Tonga’s leadership, diplomacy, and foresight as incoming Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum will be very important.