September 27, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Acting Fijian Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum At a Joint Press Availability

21 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Denarau Island, Fiji

Sofitel Fiji Resort

MODERATOR:  The Acting Prime Minister of Fiji, the U.S. Secretary of State, and members of the media, bula vinaka to you all.  A special welcome to the Secretary of State Blinken and members of his delegation and the accompanying media, too.  I welcome you to our joint press conference, ladies and gentlemen.

Ladies and gentlemen, I now invite the Acting Prime Minister of Fiji, the Honorable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to deliver his address.  You have the floor, sir.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER SAYED-KHAIYUM:  Thank you.  Bula vinaka and good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  I wish to welcome Secretary Blinken and his delegation and the American media to Fiji in particular.

We are at the crossroads of a 40 million square kilometer patch of the Pacific Ocean that is governed by the Pacific Islands and our neighbors, Australia and New Zealand.  Most of world maps cut our region right down the middle.  So you may not know by looking, but we are the largest ocean continent in the world.

That big, blue responsibility is linked to the well-being of every person on Earth.  Despite that, Fiji and our small-state neighbors have felt at times, to borrow an American term, like a flyover country.  Small dots spotted from plane windows of leaders en route to meetings where they spoke about us, rather than with us, if they spoke of us at all.

When the USA signaled its intent to leave the Paris Agreement, we felt forgotten by a superpower.  So of course, we welcome President Biden’s promise to the world that America was back.

Mr. Secretary, your being here shows that promise was more than words.  We have just held the most historic and comprehensive meeting ever between Fiji and the USA and a wider meeting with our fellow Pacific leaders.  We believe that both mark the start of more direct partnership between Fiji and the USA, and a new era for America in the blue frontier of the Pacific.

The last significant American presence we felt in Fiji were soldiers we welcomed here during the Second World War.  We face a new war today, a climate war that is devastating our people unlike any conflict before it.  There is no region of the world, not in the Pacific, not in Europe, not in the Americas, that will be spared its consequences.

Fourteen cyclones have struck Fiji since we signed the Paris Agreement, each storm driving home the urgency of adapting and curbing global emissions.  This week, Ba Town, an hour’s drive away from here, was flooded for the third time in three months.  Six communities in Fiji have been moved to escape the rising seas with 14 others in the queue, not to mention the diminishing reefs and the erratic weather patterns that threaten our people’s livelihoods and ways of life.

We, of course, aren’t alone:  The Pacific Islands are sinking; Texas is freezing; California is burning; and New York is flooding.  When a superstorm misses Fiji, American Samoa is in the crosshairs.  And Hawaii, Guam, and FSM know many of Fiji’s struggles because they also live them.

Fiji and America are both working to support a more secure, stable Indo-Pacific region, and indeed a peaceful region.  There is far more we need to do together as partners in this battle of our lives.  As a nation that shares many of our struggles and our values, America is uniquely positioned to be a direct partner to Fiji for peace and climate security not only across the Indo-Pacific but here in the blue Pacific.

And not only because America is a large emitter that it must cut its carbon emissions, but because it is an innovator that can create climate solutions.  We need American might and its mind as well as pioneering solutions and investments here on the shores of this blue frontier.

Our discussions, ladies and gentlemen, covered our commitment to upholding the rule of law in our region, including the Law of Sea.  As we move to sustainably manage and protect our ocean, we sought to jointly up our game through our navies, militaries, and our Fiji police force through maritime surveillance cooperation to end illegal fishing, combat transnational crime, and ensure that this is an ocean dedicated to exploration and discovery, not exploitation and destruction.

In this respect, we also discussed the opportunities for greater participation from the USA in the Australian-funded Blackrock facility in Fiji to coordinate joint responses to the catastrophic events not just in Fiji but in the wider Pacific.

During our meeting we welcomed America’s net zero commitment as well as Mr. Blinken’s recent pledge to decarbonize operations within the State Department.

Fijians believe in leading by example as well, which is why, despite our emissions being negligible, we have committed to achieving net zero by 2050.  Mitigation and adaptation both require access to technology we do not have, and which major market powers like the USA can help us deploy, including (inaudible).  And that means jobs for Fijians, jobs in cutting-edge technology and from nature, that both can build the future.

We also spoke on Fiji’s role in leading a regional recovery from the pandemic.  With the support of the USA and our development partners, over 90 percent of Fijians over the age of 15 are fully vaccinated, which allowed us to welcome American visitors from the 1st of December last year, and we hope to welcome many more, including your families and the many Americans watching us today.

We are also keen to open more of the U.S. export market to our farmers.  We would love to export more of our kava (inaudible), as well as ginger, carob, turmeric, sugar, Fijian chocolates, cosmetics, and other Fijian-grown and Fijian-made products to the U.S.

We also welcome U.S. firms looking to participate in our growing outsourcing services sector.  We have young, well-spoken, English-speaking, tech-savvy and, frankly, very friendly people who would love the opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, this visit reaffirms that the ocean and islands that fall under our region’s responsibility are too vital for our people and for our planet for any leader to fly over or overlook.

Mr. Secretary, your visit to Fiji is the first in almost 40 years.  But today has not been about the last 40, 4 decades or 40 years.  It is about the many more to come, decades that our nations will meet together as enduring partners with shared values enlisted with humanity in overcoming the greatest challenges of our time.

It is now my privilege, ladies and gentlemen, to invite our friend, Secretary Blinken, to make his remarks.

Mr. Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, I am tempted to close my book, because it’s very hard to top the eloquence of the Acting Prime Minister.  I think he captured powerfully the afternoon that we’ve spent together but also the perspective that we share on the future, the future of the United States and Fiji, the future of the United States and all of our friends and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

And I want to thank you not only for the incredible graciousness of your hospitality today, but also for your leadership of the, I think, truly extraordinary session that we had with friends and partners from throughout the region.  It was incredibly valuable to me, to our team, and I really thank you very much for that.

It’s a pleasure to be here, and not only to be, as it turns out, the first secretary of state to visit Fiji in 36 years, going back to Secretary Shultz.  And I really want to thank the people of Fiji for welcoming us today.

I’m going to spend a little bit of time, if I can, this evening covering the important ground that we walked on today as we look to the future.  Before I do that, I want to say a few words about something that is going on half a world away from here but that is profoundly relevant to this region, and that is the situation in and around Ukraine.

We continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving around Ukraine’s borders.  As I said yesterday, we are in the window when a Russian invasion could start at any time if President Putin so decides.  That includes in the coming days.  We don’t know whether President Putin has made that decision, but we do know that he has put in place the capacity to act on very short notice.

Throughout the trip that we’ve been on, I’ve been in very close coordination with the national security team back in Washington, including multiple discussions with President Biden on our plans and preparations and, of course, with our chargé in Kyiv.  I have also engaged with counterparts around the world on our ongoing diplomatic efforts.  In recent days I’ve spoken to the French Foreign Minister Le Drian, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, our Quad allies and partners, of course:  Australia, India, Japan.  I spoke earlier today with my Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and I’ll speak this evening with Foreign Secretary Truss of the United Kingdom.

We have a remarkable level of unity and common purpose.  We and our allies have made this crystal clear to Moscow.  If President Putin decides to take military action, we will swiftly impose severe economic sanctions in coordination with allies and partners around the world, we’ll bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, we will reinforce our allies on the eastern flank of NATO.

I’ll underscore this unity and resolve when I speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov a little bit later this evening.  I’ll also make clear, as I have consistently, that if Russia is genuinely interested in resolving this crisis of its own making through diplomacy and dialogue, we are prepared to do that.  In fact, that’s our preferred path.  It’s the right and responsible thing to do.  But it must take place in the context of de-escalation.  So far, we have only seen escalation from Moscow.

This is a pivotal moment.  We are prepared for whatever should happen.

As I’ve said throughout this trip, our return to the Indo-Pacific now, even as we continue to work relentlessly to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, is, in itself, a demonstration of our commitment to staying focused on this region.  And that includes the Pacific Islands.

When Secretary Shultz was here in 1985, he praised Fiji for being a diverse democracy and, as he put it – and I quote – “a member of the international community that’s done your share and more as a peacekeeper in a troubled world.”  And he expressed hope that the ties of friendship and cooperation between Fiji and the United States would grow closer and stronger in the years ahead.

Today Fiji is again a democracy, which is a credit to the perseverance and determination of its people.  Fiji has been a proud contributor to peacekeeping operations around the world for 43 years and counting.  Just in the past few months you have sent help to Tonga after the eruption and tsunami, and to the Solomon Islands to help bring an end to recent violence.  And just as Secretary Shultz hoped, the ties between our countries, between Fiji and the United States, have grown stronger and closer, including on security, on health, climate, trade and investment, promoting regional and global cooperation.  That partnership serves not only our countries but many others, because Fiji and all the Pacific Island nations are a vital part of the Indo-Pacific region.

A few months ago, when I was in Indonesia, I had a chance to preview my country’s approach to this vast and vital part of the world.  I laid out the five core elements of our engagement:  first, advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific; second, forging stronger connections within and beyond the region; third, promoting broad-based prosperity; fourth, helping build resilience; and fifth, bolstering security.

Today the United States is releasing our Indo-Pacific Strategy in full.  It’s the result of a year of intensive engagement and consultation with allies and partners across the region and beyond, and hearing directly from its people about what’s most important to them.  And it reflects the fundamental truth that no region on Earth will affect the lives and livelihoods of Americans more than the Indo-Pacific, which accounts for 60 percent of the global economy, two-thirds of all economic growth over the last five years.

Every defining issue of the 21st century runs through this region:  the climate crisis, global health, the future of technology, whether nations will be free to chart their own path or be subject to coercion by more powerful nations.  Our strategy is built on collaboration.  We want to develop sustained, innovative, mutually reinforcing partnerships across the Indo-Pacific with our allies, our partners; with regional institutions like ASEAN, APEC, which the United States will host next year; the Pacific Islands Forum, which Fiji is chairing this year.

The Acting Prime Minister and I just came from a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum where I reinforced my country’s commitment to the region and the PIF’s critical role in driving regional action.  We welcome the decision of the Micronesian States to pause their withdrawal from the PIF to allow for continued discussions.

We’re strengthening our relationships in every corner of the region.  We’re building our longstanding ties in Northeast Asia and Australia and New Zealand, investing more deeply in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.

We’re also forging new connections across continents, between our European and Indo-Pacific partners, as only the United States can do.  The European Union’s first-ever Indo-Pacific strategy aligns with our own.  And the United States is increasingly speaking with one voice with our NATO allies and our G7 partners when it comes to Indo-Pacific matters.

You can see the strength of that commitment to the Indo-Pacific throughout the past year.  Just look at some of the key markers on our calendar, from President Biden being the first U.S. president to address the Pacific Islands Forum to our increasing engagement with the Quad, whose ministers I just met with in Melbourne, to deepening our cooperation on a range of security and defense priorities through AUKUS.

We also intend to open a U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands, in its capital city, to deepen our cooperation with Pacific Island partners.

And these steps are only the beginning.  We’ll continue to advance our engagement and investments in the Indo-Pacific.  That includes in the Pacific Islands because what happens here matters to the United States.  We share a history.  It was here on these beaches that Americans braved some of the hardest-fought battles of the Second World War.  Our people are closely tied together by a large Pacific Islander diaspora in the United States.

As much as any other place in the world, these islands are ground zero for the devastating impact of climate change.  And I heard that so powerfully and eloquently from our colleagues this afternoon.  It resonates not just as something that we think about but something that actually touches us here, because for so many of our partners here this is truly the existential issue of our times.  And we’re committed to tackling that challenge, to meeting it head on, to doing it together.

And here in the Pacific Islands we see a clear example of why standing up for a free and open Indo-Pacific matters for real people.  Pacific Islanders are proud.  They believe that no matter their size, they alone should be able to choose their path, whether that’s how they manage their natural resources or who they partner with.  We share that belief, and we think the world is a more secure and prosperous place when core international principles like that are respected, whether that’s here in the Pacific, in Ukraine, or anywhere else.

You see the strength of our commitment to the region in our partnership with Fiji.  Together our countries are taking on major issues facing not only us, but countries throughout the region and, indeed, beyond.  On COVID-19, for example, the United States has provided more than 700,000 vaccine doses to Pacific Island countries, including Fiji.  We’re working together to build Fiji’s capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to future health emergencies.

On security, just this week three shipriders from Fiji are joining the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton to conduct patrols in support of maritime sovereignty and security.  The United States is proud that several of Fiji’s future leaders are being trained in our military academies.

On climate, Fiji and other Pacific Island nations have been leading voices, powerful voices, calling for the world’s major economies to take strong action to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Fiji was the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement.  In Glasgow the United States announced our goal of mobilizing $150 billion in public and private climate finance by 2030, and we intend for a substantial portion of that money to support climate adaptation in Fiji and throughout the Pacific region.

The thread that runs through all of our engagements with Fiji is that we’re working together in a spirit of partnership, in a spirit of respect, to tackle shared challenges, to build upon shared opportunities, to deliver concrete results for people on issues that actually affect their lives.  And that’s the approach behind our Indo-Pacific strategy, as a whole.  This isn’t about opposing any country.  It’s about the shared future we want to build together for people across this region.  We’re proud to be building that future with Fiji.

So thank you again, Acting Prime Minister.  Thank you to all the people here for such a warm welcome.  I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Acting Prime Minister and Secretary Blinken, for your statements this evening.  Given the time constraints and also that Secretary Blinken has got other engagements tonight, I would ask or inform the – our media that there are only two questions that we will have.  I will ask the first question, and Mr. Ned Price will ask the second.

So the first question, I will ask Mr. Nasokia to ask your question.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Secretary Blinken, you just returned from the Quad meeting, which has (inaudible) a lot on security.  What do you see as Fiji’s role in this strategy?  What is it for us, the people of Fiji?

And in addition to that, as climate change and natural disaster relief being the top priorities of Pacific Island countries including Fiji, did you establish a concrete commitment on such issues from the U.S. during this visit?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to start.  I think what’s most important, whether it is the Quad countries, whether it’s our partnership and relationship with Fiji, whether it’s what we’re doing here with Pacific Island partners and nations – all of which is reflected in our Indo-Pacific strategy – is that we are – we start with a shared commitment to the same values, to democracy, to human rights, to the rule of law, to regional peace and stability.  That is the common denominator that joins the Quad, that joins our relationship.

And together we are committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific in which people can live their lives freely and make their own decisions, in which countries can engage together and choose with whom they work and associate, and in which we together try to build an affirmative vision for the future, and one that actually delivers concrete results for our people, both in meeting the challenges that we’re facing that are very evident to everyone now, starting with COVID, climate, the impact of emerging technologies on all of our lives – as well as finding the opportunity that I think is so powerful in this region.  We have incredibly young populations, a great human resource to work with.  We have throughout the region economies that represent 60 percent of world GDP, and that have been the fastest growing before the COVID crisis.  We’re going to emerge and bounce back better from that.

But a big part of this, I think, is for all of us to uphold some of the basic principles that are critical to peace and security and stability, and that’s what we’re committed to doing, as well.  We’ve talked about that with the Quad, and we talked about that today as well, with our colleagues and partners here.

MODERATOR:  There was more for Secretary Blinken.  (Inaudible) the first one.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Would you – I apologize.  Can you repeat the – is there a second part of the question?

QUESTION:  Yes, climate change and natural disaster relief being the top priorities of the Pacific.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So yes, I think we spent a lot of time talking about climate change, about what we’re doing together to meet that, both in terms of the meeting that we had, but also in the meeting with all of our Pacific Island partners.  There are a number of common themes that jumped out, but that was certainly at the very, very top of the list.  So let just say this.

First, as you’ve seen over the last year, President Biden, the United States, is committed to leading this effort around the world to deal with climate change, to make sure that we meet the existential challenge of our time.  We’ve raised our own ambitions as one of the leading emitters in the world, and historically the largest emitter.  It is our responsibility to do that.  We’re encouraging and working with other countries to do the same.

We’re making it very clear that, for all of the objectives that we set for 2045 or 2050, if we don’t take these steps now over the next years, over the next decade, we’re not going to get there, we’re not going to be able to meet the goal that we set of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  So the United States remains committed to leading, to working with others on that.

But at the same time we also have a responsibility to help – countries adapt, to build resilience, to make sure that they have the resources, that they have access to the financing and the technology to strengthen themselves, to be able to both resist the immediate impacts of climate change, and to adjust and adapt their economies, their systems, going forward.  So we’ve done a lot of work about – on that.  We talked about that today at some length.  The President announced a commitment to work with our Congress to provide $3 billion every year by 2024 for what we call the Prepare Program.  And through Prepare we’re going to help more than 500 million people adapt and manage the impacts of climate change by 2030.

One aspect of this – this is something we talked about today – is strengthening access to finance, which we know is one of the top priorities.  We’ve heard that repeatedly from colleagues today.  USAID is working to help countries obtain direct accreditation to apply for and manage multilateral climate finance.  To date, we’ve helped mobilize more than $220 million in projects here in the Pacific.

So we have a comprehensive approach to this.  We have a commitment to this.  We have a responsibility to this.  And what I want to just conclude with is that I think we’ve seen Fiji set the example, the first country to ratify Paris, but also signing onto, giving its voice to, the major initiatives that are necessary if we are going to really address this crisis.  For example, the Global Methane Pledge.  Fiji’s not a large emitter, but the fact that it’s added its voice to this pledge I think is going to inspire other countries to take the pledge and make a very big contribution to curbing global warming.

MR PRICE:  Our question goes to Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I have a couple of questions.  They’re very quick, but please bear with me.  Thank you.

Will the United States be evacuating its embassy in Kyiv?  Regarding your call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, what can the West possibly offer Putin so that he can walk away from this crisis saving face?

Yesterday you said an invasion of Ukraine by Russia during the Olympics is now possible, so does the United States believe that Putin has gotten some sort of a blessing from China during his meeting with Xi at the Olympics last week?

And finally, to both of you on the Indo-Pacific, it seems U.S. only tries to grow its presence in the region when it perceives security threats – Japan during World War II and now China.  How does the U.S. maintain authentic engagement that speaks to the real needs of the islanders?  How can U.S. help them with climate change, for example, and also in balancing China’s presence here?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, I’ll see if I can – I’ll start.  Let’s see if I can remember the excellent multipart question.

First with regard to our embassy, as I noted I think last night when we last spoke, we’ve been continuing to focus on our embassy, and I think this is something we’re focused on as we speak.  I’ll have more to say about that.  We’ll have more to say about that in the coming hours.

With regard to my conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov a short time from now, and where Russia goes from here, we have been as clear as we possibly can be throughout this crisis – a crisis, again, created by Russia’s actions in massing forces along Ukraine’s borders – that there are two paths forward, and it is ultimately up to President Putin to decide which path to follow.  One is diplomacy and dialogue to try to resolve the differences through dialogue, through diplomacy.

We’ve been very focused on, in close coordination with all of our partners and allies, making clear that we’re prepared – we’re prepared to do that.  We shared ideas with Russia that address some of its concerns that raised the many concerns that we have about actions that Russia has taken to undermine security, and that looks at possible ways forward that on a reciprocal basis could actually strengthen collective security.

Russia said that it would respond to some of the ideas we put forward.  We still have not seen that response.  I’ll be asking Minister Lavrov if we can anticipate seeing a response in the coming days to see to see if we can carry the dialogue forward.

But as we’ve done that we’ve been equally clear that if Russia chooses the path of aggression it will face massive consequences, which we have outlined repeatedly, and again, not just from us, but from allies and partners around the world.  And we’re, as I noted, in very close coordination and collaboration with them.

So President Putin will have to decide which path to follow.  We are prepared either way.  It’s clear what the responsible path is.  But as I said, we’re prepared either way.

I don’t know what was said between China and Russia when the meeting took place between President Xi and President Putin.  But as I noted the other day, we hear very often from Beijing the primacy it places on the sovereignty of nations.  It says that’s the most important element in the international system.  You would think, given that, that it would have expressed concerns to Russia about its threatened violation, renewed violation, of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  But you’ll have to ask President Xi if he shared that with President Putin.

President Putin, as I said earlier, has put in place the capacity to act very quickly if he so chooses.  We are very focused on that, and I continue to hope that he will not choose the path of renewed aggression, that he’ll choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue.  But if he doesn’t, we’re prepared.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER SAYED-KHAIYUM:  I cannot comment about Ukraine.  (Laughter.)

But most certainly we welcome the U.S. coming back into the Paris Agreement fold, and for us that’s critically important.  I think that Secretary Blinken’s presence here signifies that.  And for us, climate finance, for example – we talked about finance equates to development finance – and the ability to get some of the larger countries to be able to participate in the Paris Agreement, and their willingness to listen, understand, and indeed engage with Pacific Island countries is most welcome, as we welcome any other country that is very much in the same space as us in respect of addressing issues pertaining to climate change.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to come back to the – I apologize, I had forgotten the last part of the multipart question.  This is not at all a case of us being here, coming here, being focused here for security reasons.  It’s much more fundamental than that.  When we are looking at this region that we share, we see it as the region from the future, vital to our own – our own prosperity, vital to our own progress.  Sixty percent of global GDP is here.  Fifty percent of the world’s population is here.  And for all the challenges that we have at the moment that we’re working on together, it’s also a source of tremendous opportunity.  And that’s what the strategy that we put out is all about.

It is about, as I said, building a free and open Indo-Pacific, defending it with democratic institutions, with transparency, with commitment to a rules-based order that we share.  It’s about connecting our countries together, deepening and stitching together different partnerships and alliances.  It’s about building shared prosperity, new approaches to economic integration, some of which we talked about today, with high standards.  Yes, it is about security, and we’ve been – we’re working through the strategy to deepen integrated deterrence across the region, the inter-interoperability of our forces.

And ultimately, it’s also about resilience – coming together to end COVID, coming together to deal with the climate crisis, coming together to build back better from the economic crisis that has resulted from COVID.  So this is a strategy for the long term because we see our long-term future in the Indo-Pacific.  It’s as simple and basic as that.  Thank you.</span
MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve come to the end of the press conference this evening.

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