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Suva, FIJI – July 11, 2022: 6.15pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Preeminent among regional meetings the Pacific Islands Leaders meeting kicked off in Suva  yesterday (11May) mired in controversy around the issue of unity within the Forum family and the 2021 announced withdrawal by Micronesian Nations over the issue of the rotation of the Secretary Generals position.

Absent from the meeting are Kiribati, Nauru (reason stated due to increasing Covid-19 in the country), Marshall Islands (it requires a reversal of parliamentary legislation put in place last year on its withdrawal).

News of the continued fracture broke in Suva last night with One News New Zealand reporting that Kiribati had withdrawn from the Pacific Islands Forum despite the Suva Agreement negotiated by Fiji and PIFs Chair Frank Bainimarama last month in June, which included an agreement on formalising the rotation of Secretary Generals’s between the regional groupings of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia, among other agreements.

The Suva Agreement negotiations had been attended and signed by David Panuelo, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia and Surangel Whipps, Jr, the President of Palau, while Marshall Islands Minister John Silk had represented his Government. A number of other Pacific leaders were also part of negotiations including Samoa’s Fiame Mata’afa.

In their letter published by OneNews New Zealand and the Guardian Australia dated 9th July Taneti Maamau, President of Kiribati stated it had taken the sovereign decision to withdraw from PIF’s with immediate effect, after much thought, and with no intention to “offend or be against any Pacific Island brothers and sisters”.

Central amongst reasons was their belief that the Forum had not adequately addressed concerns of Micronesian countries, including their main reason for withdrawing from PIF’s. In attendance at PIFLM22 are Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, while Marshals is represented by a delegation of civil servants.

PIFLM51 in Suva is the first face to face meeting of Pacific Leaders since 2019 and when borders closed across the region due to Covid-19. It is also the first since Fiji’s re-admission to the Forum family since its suspension in 2009, for failing to hold promised elections since the overthrow of the Qarase government and the 2006 coup. Fiji as host has to PIFLM51 been Chair for the Forum for the past year.

On the agenda for the 2022 meeting remains regional solidarity, in order to best take advantage of opportunities and shared challenges given the strength of the Pacific as a collective front in the international fora. The meeting is expected to offer resolutions on the Micronesian withdrawal as well as on the appointment and rotation of the Secretary Generals position.

Also on the agenda will be the long awaited Review of the Regional Architecture that’s to ensure the regions partnerships and engagement are aligned to Forum Members priorities as presented in the 2050 strategy.

The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, the strategy to guide Pacific regionalism is to be presented to leaders for their consideration, with a scheduled launch for Thursday. Its development was called for in 2019 by Leaders as a response to the regions long term vulnerabilities as related to climate change and geopolitical competition. The strategy is also expected to guide regional action on disaster resilience, security, economic development and trade, resource management, Oceans governance, as well as social and cultural development. It is also expected to form the basis of the regions position in its relations and engagement with dialogue partners such as the US and China, and all 21 of them to date.

The leaders retreat is a space that Leaders, Samoa’s Fiame Mata’afa  and New Zealands Jacinda Ardern  are expected to use to lobby their male counter parts to take ownership of progressing the regions Gender agenda, which since the inception of the Gender Declaration a decade ago has seen little to no traction in progressing gender equity in the region, nor with decreasing incidence of violence against women. The inaugural Women Leaders meeting held last month is expected to form the basis of their lobby. Climate change, post Covid-19 economic recovery, the geopolitical competition for influence between Western nations lead by United States and Australia and between China are also expected to feature in discussions.

Remaining Pacific Leaders arrive in Fiji tonight, as meeting proper convenes tomorrow morning with the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue with associate members and Forum observers and concludes this Thursday. We will bring you a wrap up of the meeting at its conclusion.

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