12 Apr 2024

China vehicles for Pacific leaders meeting 'not an issue' - Puna

11:00 am on 12 April 2024
Tonga PM Hu'akavameiliku and PIF General Secretary Henry Puna oversee the unveiling of the theme for the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting

Photo: Pacific Islands Forum

The Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general says concerns about the prospects of China providing vehicles to support Tongan police in the security of the 53rd Pacific Island Leaders Forum Leaders (PIFLM) meeting are a non-issue.

Over the last week, Tonga's Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku has been questioned by media and in Parliament about the appropriateness of a non-Forum nation becoming involved in the hosting of the event.

The event is take place during the last week of August.

Puna told journalists in Nuku'alofa the sovereignty of Forum member nations needed to be respected.

"These noises about Chinese police in the region, I don't think it's an issue really," he said.

"It is to do with the national interest and sovereignty of our member countries and the Forum has no business cutting across that.

"This issue is a lot more complicated because it touches on the sovereignty of each member country to do as the please in accordance to their priorities and their interests.

"It's not an issue for us in the Pacific…you know we are committed to regional peace and that's why we are the Pacific ocean, the ocean of peace so lets live up to that."

Tonga's Crown Prince Tupoutoʻa ʻUlukalala and Prime Minister unveil the theme for the 53rd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting.

Photo: Pacific Islands Forum

Puna's comments followed the ceremonial commissioning of the dates, theme and logo for the 53rd PIFLM.

Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku announced the theme as "Transformative Resilient Pasifiki; Build Better Now" with the logo of dove flying above a kalia (traditional Tongan canoe).

It will be the Tonga's fourth time hosting the meeting - it's last being in 2007. The Kingdom hosted its first PIF leaders meeting in 1975.

Hu'akavameiliku said Pacific Island nations prioritised the same challenges, such as natural disasters and public financing.

"Across the forum membership, we all face the same need for financing to keep up public sectors afloat, minimising disruptions to key infrastructure, such as agriculture and health, and to soften the effects of external shocks to our economy," he said.

"Hosting the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting is not only a prestigious honour and privilege but comes with a great deal of responsibility as Tonga will be at the helm of driving development aspirations of our Blue Pacific region."

"It's not the role of one agency or the government alone to convene the Pacific Islands Forum, a lot of us must work together to welcome our brothers and sisters in a few short months."