Prime Minister states meeting is crucial for regional cooperation

21 October 2022

Nuku’alofa – The Prime Minister and Minister Responsible for Defence, Honourable Hu’akavameiliku, stated at the opening session of the 7th Session here in Nuku’alofa on October 18, 2022 that the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting (SPDMM) has provided the platform to drive more effective regional cooperation during a period of significant changes to the regional security landscape.

As Chairperson of the SPDMM, hosted by His Majesty’s Armed Forces, at the Fa’onelua Convention Centre, the Hon Hu’akavameiliku expressed in his Opening Address that the two-day meet provides participants the opportunity to discuss more effective regional cooperation with partners that share common and mutual interests of a peaceful and secure Pacific.

Hon Hu’akavameiliku affirmed that while building on previous Defence Ministers’ Meetings, regional members are witnessing the demonstrable value of the initiatives already in place and are reassured of a mutually strengthened position upon which to build and expand.

He added that geopolitical complexities and multifaceted non-traditional security threats demand that we forge enduring mutual cooperation for present and future generations.

“We can only do this through a shared understanding of regional threats, shared values, shared information and enhanced interoperability,” the Hon Prime Minister stated.

“Traditional and non-traditional threats, including grey zone tactics, transnational and cyber-crime, will continue to test our resilience and our ability and proficiency to be adaptable is critical.”

Hon. Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku reiterated that, for the Secretariat, the meeting is an opportunity to share and present the collective aspirations of the SPDMM and to review and revise continued engagement ensuring that it remains a relevant and significant institution in regional cooperation.

It is also a chance to build on existing partnerships, forge new relationships, and ultimately strengthen collective ownership of the SPDMM as a flagship model of defence cooperation.

In acknowledging the participation of Australia, Fiji, France, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Chile, the Hon Hu’akavameiliku asserted that their presence at the meeting reaffirmed their commitments to continue working together to respond to the region’s shared security threats.

“I am proud that we, as Members, are working closely together with our partners from Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, not only as Observers but who are here to support us in this cooperation,” he acknowledged.

The Hon Prime Minister thanked all partners who assisted Tonga during the January 15 Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and tsunami recovery program and the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The hosting of our meeting would not have been made possible but for the collective and immediate action made by our SPDMM partners to assist and aid Tonga in the unprecedented event of January 15, when the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption and Tsunami shook the Kingdom and our people to its core and shocked the world with the magnitude of the event;” the Hon Prime Minister stated.

“Compounded by the pandemic, the loss of lives, properties and the livelihood for many of our people was met with unparalleled impact to our economy and risks to our physical and environmental security which we are still struggling with today, nine (9) months after the disaster.

“The remarkable outpouring of support through the response and engagement demonstrated by your Governments and by the International community to assist and support Tonga in our hour of need – is acknowledged with our deepest gratitude.”

He said that demonstrated how SPDMM members and partners continue to strengthen partnerships in standing by each other at times of need and through a more structured capability, which enabled Tonga to respond and navigate through the challenges with efficacy and efficiency, ensuring the safety, security and dignity of the people.

He added the scale of the assistance was unparalleled and can be acknowledged as an opportunity to build on this model for similar regional responses in the Pacific.

The Hon Prime Minister said the development of the Regional Humantarian and Disaster Relief Response Framework is critical in refining the way countries within the South Pacific will work together during times of disaster.

The Hon Prime Minister also acknowledged His Majesty’s Armed Forces and long and humble history in its contribution to regional and global security at both the regional (South Pacific Peace Keeping Force Missions (PNG); Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the international co-deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, graced the opening ceremony with and was joined by the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Richard Marles; Hon. Ministers of Defence Peeni Henare of New Zealand; Hon. Minister Wini Daki of Papua New Guinea; Heads of Delegations from all Members and Observers countries; Defence and Military Commanders from the South Pacific and Indo-Pacific region; Cabinet Ministers of the Tongan Government and Members of the Tongan Parliament.

PC: Australian Government Defence