Pacific Islands Forum in crisis after Kiribati withdrawal

Sydney, Australia, Jul 11 (EFE).- The Pacific Islands Forum has been plunged into crisis due to Kiribati announcing it will go ahead with its withdrawal from the multilateral organization the evening before its summit starting Monday and marked by the fear of China’s growing influence in the region.

Kiribati, together with other Micronesian countries Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Nauru, announced last year that they would withdraw from the forum in June, considering that the election of the current Secretary General, Henry Puna, did not respect the unwritten pact to hand the rotating position among the three sub-regions (Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia) to their candidate.

However, last month, Fiji’s President Frank Bainimarama, whose country is hosting the forum this year, reached an agreement with key Micronesian members to keep Puna, from Polynesia’s Cook Islands, in office until 2024, which had to be ratified at this week’s summit.

However, Kiribati wasn’t part of that agreement, and this weekend its president Taneti Maamau, wrote to Puna stating that his country will not support the agreement signed in Suva and that its withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum will go ahead, New Zealand’s public broadcaster 1 News reported on Monday.

“For Kiribati, this is a matter of principle and one that touches on the need for equity, equality and inclusiveness,” the Kiribati president said in the letter cited by 1 News.

With the departure of Kiribati, which reestablished its diplomatic ties with Beijing in 2019 after breaking relations with Taiwan, the Pacific Islands Forum is left weakened at a time when the region is concerned with the expansion of China, especially after the signing of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands.

After the signing of this pact, which was announced in April and negotiated opaquely, Beijing has been trying to seal a pact with 10 Pacific nations with which it has alliances, but for the moment it has not progressed due to the suspicions of the various governments.

The Pacific Islands Forum brings together Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

It also has as associate members Tokelau, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wallis and Futuna, as well as the Asian Development Bank, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the World Bank and the United Nations. EFE


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