Dr Bo Li,
Your Excellencies,
Senior Executives,
Central Bank Governors, development partners, policy-makers, and distinguished guests.

A very good morning to you and a friendly Fijian welcome to our islands.
I’m going to open my remarks in the familiar territory of finance, development and economic reforms befitting a conference of this nature. Then I’ll take my thoughts into a different and more ominous landscape representing crisis and destruction.

After that I’ll present to you the vision that has become central to my career as a politician and patriot. It is about a search for harmony and progress in our Islands, among our peoples, and in the community of nations.

What I say will be very much in tune with the theme of this conference - Charting the Course Towards Shared Prosperity.

We all know that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), host of this conference, ensures the world money system works in an orderly way.
The IMF promotes international prosperity by regulating monetary arrangements, encouraging trade and the creation of jobs, expanding economic activity and improving living standards.

The Fund is not a development financing agency. It gives practical policy help and technical assistance to its member countries including those in our Pacific.

When nations experience severe financial difficulties, the IMF assists them with funding to return to stability and progress.

So a big vinaka - thank you - to Dr Li and his executives and staff of IMF.
I note the Fund’s Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Centre (PFTAC) promotes financial stability and associated training in our 16 Island nations. It was the first centre of its kind representing a collaborative venture between IMF member countries and bilateral donor partners in the Pacific.

The Centre’s broad mission includes strengthening the capacity of Pacific countries to design and implement sound macro-economic and financial policies.

This year is PFTAC’s 30th anniversary, so let us applaud it for everything it does for our region.

I know that development is a critical part of your conference agenda. Those of us in positions of national leadership grapple everyday with the continuing impact of climate change, and the challenges of economic growth compounded by our smallness. There is the necessity for more investment and jobs; improved wages; higher productivity and competitiveness; reducing poverty; and creating better infrastructure and services.

We are vulnerable to external shocks and commodity price hikes. The aftermath of the destructive pandemic period is still with us.
At this point I begin to move into what will become the core of this presentation. It involves the complex implications of big power geo-political rivalry in our region, the impact of armed conflict far beyond, coupled with simmering tensions with potential for havoc and mass destruction.

Several months ago, as the world veered further towards conflict and catastrophe, I started to reflect intensely on the Pacific - its islands and atolls. It was evident to me that our region was exposed and in peril, even in its isolation.

Perhaps my feelings were intensified through my own missions as a peacekeeper in strife-torn places. As Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment serving with the UN in Lebanon, I lost four brave and loyal soldiers. I remember their deaths like yesterday.

World War II ended 78 years ago. It was devastating. The fighting and terror came right into the quietness of our Pacific. It triggered battles with massive loss of life.

Now strife among nations is on the rise again. Are we once more heading towards the abyss?

Millions of people are asking the same question. Twelve months ago the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Ms Amina J Mohammed, told the UN Security Council the planet has the highest number of violent conflicts since the last global war.

The situation has worsened.

Ms Mohammed had estimated two billion people, one quarter of humanity, lived in places affected by violence.

The number will have increased.

I believe it’s true to say there is a sense of insecurity throughout the planet. What all of us now require - and I mean all of us - is a deluge of peace, a torrent of it, as an antidote to war. The people of the world can make this happen.

The very word peace is filled with power and meaning that inspires and lifts. Peace leads to communities of compassion, care and charity. It nurtures prosperity - the theme of this conference.

My thinking crystallised.

I could see there was an Ocean of Peace waiting to be born in a world wounded and threatened by war. This new feature on the face of the earth would occupy more than 32 million square kilometres of the South Pacific.  

It is currently known as Oceania or, as we Islanders call it, the Blue Pacific.

We are separated by the ocean’s size but bound together by a common 3,000-year-old maritime heritage.

Our original ancestors were some of the greatest of all navigators. We inherited from them a sense of kinship spanning the endless waters. That makes us brothers and sisters. We are, as we say in Fijian, vuvale - a family.

If we can unite around the concept of proclaiming the Blue Pacific as the Ocean of Peace, we would be custodians of a powerful symbol of co-existence and friendship.

The peace we seek cannot just be a name and an image. Each of our countries would be called upon to live by values reflecting peace as one of the highest virtues. This would require our leaders to work with the people to ensure peace is central to national life.

The cherished ‘Pacific Way’ of patient dialogue and consensus would remain a fundamental part of our societies.

Our Island states are acutely aware that in international geopolitics their area has high strategic value. The superpowers America and China are competing within it for influence.

We have no desire to get caught up in, and torn by, that rivalry. We are friendly with both nations and want to keep it that way.

In November last year I formally presented the Ocean of Peace dream to Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders at our annual meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

While the leaders were impressed with the idea and officially welcomed it, they deferred making a final decision. More comprehensive consideration will be on the agenda for our next meeting in the Kingdom of Tonga in August.

From the last part of 2023 I have been speaking out more frequently about the Ocean of Peace at home, and at numerous overseas engagements. I am truly grateful to all who have embraced the vision and concepts I have shared.

My special thanks go to my colleagues from PIF, which is the region’s leading political organisation.

World leaders I have addressed in different groups and gatherings include US President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken and Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

I also introduced the Ocean of Peace at the UN General Assembly, saying it would be a contribution to world order.

It was the prime topic of an address I gave to the Lowy Institute in Canberra.

In February at an EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Brussels, I had another opportunity to express my thoughts.

I have to tell you that at one stage in my life I was seen by many in this homeland as the antithesis of peace. In 1987 I executed two military coups. Since then, there have been two more separate coups. I believe we have put the issues and differences that led to these upheavals and political instability behind us.

I acknowledge there are questions about why a coup-maker like me - a “Rambo” figure - is now carrying a banner for peace.

It’s because I am reborn and wish to atone for what I did. My past cannot be removed, but I can compensate to some extent for my actions.
While I am actively championing the birth of the Ocean of Peace, I understand very clearly that it can only go forward through the endorsement of the PIF. I am quietly confident that the political leaders of the region will ultimately fully back the initiative.

I emphasise that what I envisage will further deepen and strengthen PIF unity and relationships. There would be a new bond between the Islanders connected directly to their joint ownership of a newly-named Ocean of Peace. From this would come a common, closer embrace throughout the region of the principles of peace in daily and national life.
I would expect our developed neighbours and close friends, Australia and New Zealand, who are members of the PIF, would continue as our close partners as we define the new future for the region.
I support the recent call by Fiji Deputy PM and Finance Minister, Professor Biman Prasad, for regional integration that would include visa-free travel. I’m sure Professor Prasad will mention it again in the next two days.

It’s also crucial for you to understand that peace does not mean PIF states will relinquish their sovereignty and normal security and legal arrangements.

As foundational rules for the peace mission, the Island countries would avoid actions that might jeopardise order and stability and commit to a mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I see a region free of militarization, with a careful definition of what that means. It would, however, be consistent with the UN Charter, multilateralism and the principles of collective action.
Right now, in this period of danger, we need more finance and investment to advance peace rather than war.

Prosperity is what we seek but it must go hand-in-hand with peace. It’s not possible to attain national progress and fulfillment amid the depredations of war, and the simmering possibility of it.
Many of you present here possess great power and influence. I respectfully request that when you return home, you use your authority to spread our Ocean message of peace. We look forward to your continuing support for our push for deeper integration, rejection of conflict and creation of a new way of living.

Perhaps we can set an example for the world.

There is much more I could tell you about the Ocean of Peace, but I think I’ve probably taken up enough of your time.

Thank you. God bless your deliberations, and peace to you all.