Mr. Tino Cueller, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. Atsushi Sunami, President of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.
Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends,
I thank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation for graciously inviting me to deliver a few remarks.
As I reflect on my tenure, as a President of the General Assembly, coming from the Maldives, I am reminded that it is not a country’s size that determines the scale of its contribution to the international community.
I am reminded that Small Island States can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the global community. That we have equal worth and an equal say to all our peer nations.
My friends, take a good look at me. I would not have gone very far in life if I believed that it is one’s size that should determine the scale of one’s ambition.
Rather, I have always believed that we should do all that we can, to stand tall.
For instance, I recollect my visits to many SIDS as PGA. I always pointed out that while I might not be tallest person one would encounter, whenever I speak on climate action as a representative of a small island, I have the moral high ground.
That always adds a few extra inches.
Indeed, throughout the session, I made it a point to emphasize that while Small Island States contribute the least to carbon emissions, pollution, and biodiversity loss - we are the first to bear the consequences. Therefore, I always endeavored to remind the global community of their obligations in terms of climate action.
While we cannot deny that SIDS are exceptionally vulnerable, I do not believe that we are powerless. On the contrary. Throughout my tenure as PGA, I made it a point to emphasize the momentous achievements SIDS are capable of, especially when we work together.
A very powerful example of this is the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS. The Maldives is proud of our role in the formation of this important bloc. A milestone on the journey to the creation of AOSIS was in 1989, when 14 small island states met at the Maldives’ capital and produced the Male’ declaration on global warming and sea level rise.
Indeed, Small Island States’ power was already on display two years after AOSIS’ formation, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. I was there at Rio as a negotiator when the term ‘SIDS’ was coined, and we were recognized as a unique body of states, with our own particular challenges and interests; and when SIDS successfully fought for the inclusion of a separate chapter on the protection of oceans and resources in Agenda 21.
While climate change is of profound importance to SIDS, it is not the only agenda item on which we should have a say. The international agenda keeps on expanding, and it will keep expanding.
Every single one of those agenda items, from peace and security to human rights, to pandemic preparedness, to the global economic outlook, are of direct interest to us. Despite our constraints in human resources and capacity, we can valuably contribute towards shaping the global responses to all of the challenges faced by humanity.
SIDS have consistently demonstrated that through persistent effort, through keeping our eyes on the ball, through bold ambitions, we can make a real difference.
When speaking of bold ambitions, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda Report. As PGA, I was entrusted to take forward the recommendations outlined in the report, charting a comprehensive path to solve all the challenges facing humanity, while reinvigorating the United Nations – indeed, achieving a UN.2.0.
Towards this end, Member States entrusted me to hold a series of consultations on taking the OCA report forward. I decided to organize this process as a series of thematic consultations. Throughout these sessions, Member States and outside voices, including civil society and academia, held robust discussions on how best to take that agenda forward.
Throughout these debates, it was evident that it was when Member States put aside their differences and endeavored to complement rather than contravene one another, that these discussions were most productive.
It reminded me of a truth that we in the Maldives are very familiar with. We are a community of practiced fishermen. We know better than to entangle our lines through aggressive competition to catch the most fish. Rather, while respecting each other’s boundaries, we cooperate with common purpose. That is how we get the greatest yield of fish.
I was very satisfied that the OCA consultations were incredibly productive, and that we were able to fill many of our baskets with fish. As a result, by working together, we were able to come to an agreement on the recommendations outlined in the OCA report. One example of this was the adoption of the resolution establishing the UN youth office, one of the most important recommendations of the report.
I have also been asked to reflect on my perspective on the future of Small Island States in the Indo-Pacific Region.
As famously noted by the late Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, the Indo-Pacific represents the “confluence of two seas” – bridging two of the world’s great oceans: the Indian and the Pacific.
This vast region accounts for more than 60 percent of the world’s population. Indeed, I believe that over half of that number is reached by combining the populations of India, China, and of course, the Maldives.
It is host to multiple great powers, myriad of cultures and nationalities, and some of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic economies. That is why it has come to the forefront of today’s global geopolitics.
It also contains some of the world’s most important straits, from Malacca in the East, to Hormuz in the West, and some of its most strategically vital waterways and Sea Lanes of Communication.
As Big Ocean States, that are stewards of the ocean, this is of profound importance to SIDS. These paths cut straight through our sovereign waters and Exclusive Economic Zones.
The peace and security of the Indian Ocean is dependent on the continued stability of SIDS, including the Maldives. And the mirror truth of that is that the continued stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region is heavily influenced by the actions of SIDS.
As such we have a responsibility and interest to take the lead in advancing the safety, security, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region. We must take the initiative to ensure that our waters are open to free navigation and commerce; to preserve our biodiversity and rich maritime ecosystems; to preserve our safety and security; and to build sustainable blue economies.
Towards this end, it is critical that we recommit ourselves to the values of multilateralism enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Small Island States know that is not escalating arms races or greater expenditure on military budgets that will win us a lasting peace. Rather, we need to cooperate, take collective action, and maintain a rules-based international order.
We cannot succeed alone. We will need the assistance of the international community to secure our EEZs; to combat the illegal use of our maritime resources, including through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and to halt the proliferation of transnational crimes such human trafficking and trade in illicit narcotics.
Without such assistance, the economic industries such as tourism and fisheries upon which we are dependent cannot thrive and will detrimentally affect the broader prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region.
That brings me to my conclusion. I reiterate my firm commitment to always prioritize the values and interest of SIDS, and to ensuring a brighter destiny for the Indo-Pacific Region.
I will continue to advocate for stronger climate action; greater multilateral cooperation; assistance to countries in vulnerable situations; and ensuring that the Indo-Pacific Region is one characterized by peace, security and prosperity.
Rest assured that I will continue to advocate for these values and priorities as Foreign Minister of Maldives, and that I will always stand alongside my colleagues from fellow island nations to protect and promote our interests, in the Indo-Pacific Region and beyond.
I thank you.