It could be confused with a political campaign slogan, but this year’s theme for the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum is: Transformative, Resilient, Pasifiki: Build Better Now.

The theme was launched in Tonga last week, as the Kingdom prepares to host regional leaders and their delegations in August.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni will chair the forum, saying this year is about action, working towards the goals set out in the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy.

“As a part of resilience-building, I am also committed to ensuring that the 2024 Forum Leaders Meeting is focused on results.

“With the 2050 Strategy now in place, we must move beyond ‘visioning’ and policy deliberation, to a focus on the achievement of tangible results and outcomes at the national level.”

The Forum’s Secretary General Henry Puna acknowledged Tonga’s history as one of the forum’s founding nations.

“In 1970, the Kingdom of Tonga was amongst a group of five Pacific Island leaders who decided that they wanted to forge a new pathway in our region.

“Tonga, together with the Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, and Samoa, made a pact to form a political grouping of independent and self-governing states. And then in 1971, Australia and New Zealand joined that grouping, which has now grown and evolved into what we know today as the Pacific Islands Forum.

“Indeed, it was at their very first meeting in 1971 that the then Prime Minister of Tonga, His Royal Highness Prince [Fatafehi] Tu’ipelehake tabled the proposal for a regional shipping line, building on the organisation of Tongan inter-Island shipping at that time.”

Puna also mentioned Tonga’s Mahi Tupouniua as the first forum leader, of what was then the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC).

It will be Tonga’s fourth time hosting the event, and Puna says it is a proud task for the whole country.

“The hosting of a Leaders’ Meeting should not be the sole responsibility of the Government of the day. It should also be the honor and responsibility of the entire nation and, most importantly, your people. Please embrace this honor and responsibility at all levels of your community.”

The Pacific Island Forum Leader’s Meeting will be held 26-30 August 2024 in Nuku’alofa.

Meanwhile, Guam and American Samoa have had their bids to gain membership seats in the Forum rejected by the United States. As told to RNZ Pacific, the State Department argues U.S territories do not qualify for Forum membership as they are not independent and self-governing countries.

In 2011, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas were given observer status, but Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. says these U.S territories share cultural backgrounds and challenges with other Pacific nations and should be included.