SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you very much. And hello, everyone. It is wonderful to be with you in this place on this occasion. Malo ‘aupito to the Honorable Hu’akavameiliku for your hospitality today, for the incredibly warm welcome that we’ve received here in Tonga. And it’s an honor to be with Your Royal Highness the Crown Prince and the Crown Princess, Your Royal Highness the Princess Royal, and Lord Tuita. To the cabinet ministers, to the lord speaker, members of parliament, members of the diplomatic corps, other distinguished guests, you all honor all of us with your presence here today. Reverend, thank you for that blessing.
I am thrilled to make my first visit to Tonga and to return to the Pacific Islands for the third time in this job and the second time this year, just in the last few months. The United States values our deep and longstanding ties with Tonga and with all our friends in the Pacific Islands. President Biden is committed to forging a new era in our partnership with Tonga and with the Pacific Islands – one of mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit – with our countries working together to advance what is a shared vision for a region that’s free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, resilient. Achieving that vision, making it real starts with listening. That’s why the President launched the U.S.-Pacific Island Summit last year to hear – to hear the priorities, the perspectives, the concerns of Pacific Island leaders and their people so that together we can shape and advance a shared approach based on our common interests. The President is eager to continue that work by hosting a second summit in Washington later this year.
Today, we’re celebrating – celebrating a major step to build up our engagement in Tonga – the opening of our U.S. embassy. Together with our new mission in the Solomon Islands and eventually missions in Kiribati and Vanuatu, this embassy will help us deliver for all of our people and build the shared future we envision.
As the honorable prime minister said, it’s less than a year ago that Vice President Harris laid out the vision for having this embassy, and here we are today. This is actually record-speed time for the United States Government. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you.
So we’ve done this at record pace. At last July’s Pacific Island’s Forum when the Vice President announced our intention to open the embassy here, it was with this vision of better connecting our countries. We actually raised the flag in May for the first time over this building. And in just a few weeks, the embassy’s first assigned U.S. diplomat will be here on the ground.
We – I am deeply grateful to Ambassador Damour for all that she has done to build this relationship, but we know it’s important to have a permanent American ambassador directly assigned to, living in, Tonga. And we’re working with urgency to make that happen.
U.S. Embassy Tonga has already hit the ground running. This team has set up partnerships with local organizations to connect girls and young women to a STEM education so that they can study and, one day, solve the challenges of today and tomorrow. They’re helping return the Peace Corps to Tonga. And today I’ll have the opportunity to see some of the newest volunteers continuing an incredibly rich history, a partnership of connection between Americans and Tongans.
They brought the first American Fulbright exchange student to Tonga in years; sent Tongan athletes and coaches to the United States to play and build their skills; and helped American jazz musicians come teach, mentor, and perform here in Nuku’alofa.
And, of course, if anyone needs evidence of the power of sports and music to connect our two countries, talk to Ta’u Pupu’a — or actually, better yet, listen. (Applause.) Born here in Tonga, raised in Salt Lake City, Ta’u is a former professional American football player turned global opera performer. What an incredible story. And we’re honored to have him and now our other wonderful singer with us today to perform our anthems.
Ta’u and the thousands of Tongans and Americans who visit, who work, who live in our two countries, they remind us of the remarkably deep connections that bind us together. That, fundamentally, is what it’s all about. And with the U.S. Embassy Tonga open – hard at work – those connections are only going to grow stronger than ever, making the future for our partnership and for the region that we share very bright indeed.
So thank you all so much for being here today. This is an important milestone, but as I like to say, as important as these occasions are – and this one day is – the 364 days that follow will really be evidence of our commitment and of the work that we’re doing together to build better lives for all of our people.
Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)