12 Jul 2022

More Pacific Islands Forum summit leaders pull out

3:21 pm on 12 July 2022

The number of leaders attending the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit has dropped further, with both the President of the Marshall Islands and the Cook Islands prime minister pulling out.

Flags of Pacific Islands nations, displayed at the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum summit.

Flags of Pacific Islands nations, displayed at the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum summit. Photo: AFP

It was revealed at the weekend that the Kiribati president Taneti Maamau was not attending the gathering, and his nation had formally withdrawn from the Forum.

Nauru's Lionel Aingimea was also understood to not be attending, ostensibly because of the soaring levels of Covid-19 in his country.

Now, Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown has also pulled out, and said he wants to focus on the election, which is to be held in three weeks.

And Marshall Islands president David Kabua has said he would have attended the summit, but was not able to because of a legislatively-binding action to terminate the country's membership in the forum.

That legislation had resulted from the five Micronesian leaders threatening to pull out 18 months ago over the failure of their nominee to be given the secretary generalship.

A forum committee announced last month that a remedy had been found for this rift and that it would be voted on at this week's meeting

Kabua announced that the Marshall Islands are no longer members of the forum, and haven't been so since March of this year.

The five Micronesian states which raised concerns at the appointment of Cook Islands politician Henry Puna as secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum were the Marshalls, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Reactions to the withdrawal of Kiribati from the Pacific Islands Forum

Federated States of Micronesia president David Panuelo said he was surprised and saddened by Kiribati's surprise decision to withdraw from PIF.

He reiterated his country's commitment to their membership in the regional forum.

"It's a bit surprising, because we believe that the Suva agreement - when we came last month and met with the forum chair, was a big achievement ... I did say that the cloud has lifted from the Pacific because of that achievement. We did achieve the reforms that Micronesian subregion was asking [for]."

China has denied claims it was behind Kiribati's withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Asked about such claims at a media briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that they were groundless.

Wang said China does not interfere in the internal affairs of Pacific Islands countries and hopes to see greater solidarity and closer cooperation among the nations for common development.

European Union ambassador to the Pacific Sujiro Seam said the withdrawal of Kiribati on the eve of the summit was sad news for the region.

He said the EU had first-hand experience of the difficulties associated with the exit of one of its members, and was urging forum leaders to address the situation.

The EU had always considered the Pacific Islands Forum as the premier political organisation for the region, Seam said.

And the EU remained committed to strengthening its dialogue with the Pacific and supporting all efforts to maintain a united, balanced and inclusive Pacific Islands Forum.

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