Bula vinaka, Namaste and a very good evening to you all.
It is a great privilege as Pacific leaders to gather in this historic city for such a high level engagement with the Government of India. And may I begin by conveying to you all the warmest greetings of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people.
All around us in Jaipur are reminders of India’s glorious past and the contribution it has made to the development of human civilisation. But tonight, we look to the future and the role India is destined to play in forging a better world for all mankind. And especially the role it can play in the Pacific to improve the lives of all our people.
Prime Minister Modi, you have the great honour to lead the world’s biggest democracy and a major power on the global stage. We in the Pacific look to India to take a greater lead in resolving the great challenges of our time. Which is why Fiji is strongly supporting India’s bid to become a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council.
For our part, we have the great honour to again engage with you face to face to discuss ways in which we can strengthen India’s engagement with our region and our people. To explore new avenues of collaboration. To tap India’s burgeoning expertise in a wide range of areas. To take our friendship to another level.
Mr Prime Minister, of all the island nations, Fiji has the closest ties with India because of the tens of thousands of indentured labourers who went to work in our plantations – mainly sugar – from British India. Every Fijian – no matter who they are or where they come from – values the wonderful assistance that India has provided towards Fiji’s development over the years. The hundreds of scholarships for Fijians at Indian institutions to bolster our human resources and capacity building. And the support the Indian Government has provided to establish our new and genuine democracy of equal votes of equal value – the first in Fijian history. For this assistance, we shall always be grateful.
Mr Prime Minister, we had the great privilege of hosting you last November in our capital, Suva – along with my fellow Pacific leaders – during your first visit to our region that we trust will not be your last. Now we come to India for the Second Forum for India and Pacific Islands Cooperation. And on behalf of my own delegation, thank you for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. It is wonderful to be here in Jaipur and to experience the warmth and energy of the Indian people.
Mr Prime Minister, Fiji welcomes and appreciates India’s stated intention to play a greater role in the Pacific region. And especially to work with us as smaller nations to enable us to reach our full potential. To share your technology and expertise. To help us develop our resources in a sustainable manner. To work together for our mutual benefit in global forums. To uphold and protect the values we share. The cornerstones of your own nation and ours – democracy, unity, harmony, diversity and opportunity and justice for all.
As part of the global heritage, the Pacific belongs to the world but it is also our home. And we insist that it be respected. For our people never again to be pawns or victims of disputes between the great powers. To keep the Pacific pacific – peaceful – and protect our pristine environment for all time. For the ocean that sustains us to have its resources utilised in a sustainable manner. And to remain a sanctuary for the enjoyment of Pacific peoples and visitors from around the world for generations to come.
Mr Prime Minister, we all have our individual challenges as Pacific Small Island Developing States but some of these are common to us all.
• Population growth is placing an unprecedented strain on our island environments. And we need urgent individual and collective action to prevent the unsustainable use of our resources on land and at sea.
• We must guarantee our food security by embracing world’s best practice in agriculture and ensure that our people have continuing access to clean water.
• We must develop our economies in a responsible manner, attract investment and provide our people with sustainable and satisfying livelihoods.
• We must educate our people, care for their health and wean them off the poor lifestyle habits that have made us one of the worst regions in the world for Non Communicable Diseases.
• We must secure our borders and work with the international community to fight trafficking in drugs and human beings.
• And in common with the rest of the developing world, we must fight corruption, develop strong institutions and embrace the notions of transparency, accountability and good governance that are the hallmark of every successful nation.
But Mr Prime Minister, by far the most pressing issue we face – and the one that requires the most urgent response – is the grave threat posed to us by the rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by climate change. We are all suffering in the Pacific to a greater or lesser extent. But in the case of three of our nations – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall islands – their very existence is threatened. And unless the industrial nations agree to binding cuts in carbon emissions to arrest the current level of global warming, these nations are destined to sink beneath the waves and disappear off the map altogether.
What will happen to their citizens is one of the great challenges the world will face. Fiji has offered permanent sanctuary to the citizens of Kiribati and Tuvalu, our nearest neighbours. But all this presents a range of logistic and legal challenges which the international community needs to address.
Mr Prime Minister, Fiji and its Pacific neighbours intend to lead the charge for drastic cuts in carbon emissions at the World Climate Summit at the end of November. We have precisely 14 weeks to persuade the industrial nations to put our survival before the wellbeing of their carbon polluting industries.
Mr Prime Minister, we ask India to stand with us as we do so. To side with us rather than with what I have called the Coalition of the Selfish. Those nations who are putting their interests before the interests of those of us who are most vulnerable to climate change – the Small Island Developing States.
In closing, Mr Prime Minister, I want to stress Fiji’s desire to take a leading role in multilateral forums to advance the interests of the Pacific nations.
As the natural hub of the region, Fiji is ideally placed to host the institutions that are needed to tackle the challenges that face us in a comprehensive and holistic manner. We already host the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Pacific Islands Development Forum Secretariat and a host of international missions and organisations dealing with the Pacific.
We already host the region’s only transnational institute of higher learning – the University of the South Pacific – and the Fiji National University, which includes the only medical school in the Pacific. So, Mr Prime Minister, Fiji is ideally positioned to host other international and regional institutions.
Just as Fiji is open for business as we enjoy the longest running period of economic growth in our history, our doors are open to the region and the world. And we offer our services to help empower all Pacific peoples and have their voices heard.
I again extend Fiji’s hand of friendship to my fellow Pacific Islanders, whether it is by sending you our civilian volunteers – our teachers or nurses – or helping you to build resilience against the extreme weather events that threaten us all.
I again extend Fiji’s hand of friendship to the world, with a pledge to continue our contribution to United Nations peacekeeping missions to protect the vulnerable and help keep the world a safer place.
And I again extend our hand of friendship to India. With our warmest thanks for all you have already done to contribute to the development of our nation and our region. And with great anticipation and excitement at what we can all achieve by working together as partners in the months and years to come.
Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyavad, and Thank you.