12 Sep 2016

Fiji events did not disrupt Pacific forum - Key

5:49 am on 12 September 2016

Prime Minister John Key says events in Fiji over the weekend did not overshadow the annual Pacific Islands Forum.

Prime Minister John Key and Federated States of Micronesia President Peter M Christian speak to media before the leaders retreat.

Prime Minister John Key and Federated States of Micronesia President Peter M Christian speak to media before the leaders retreat. Photo: RNZ/Chris Bramwell

The night before the leaders retreat at the forum, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama reshuffled his cabinet, much to the surprise of many of his ministers.

The following day reports emerged of leaders of Fiji's two opposition parties being arrested. Five have since been released without charge.

Mr Bainimarama has sworn not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum again until New Zealand and Australia pull out, which both countries say is not going to happen.

John Key said if the Fiji Prime Minister's motivation this weekend was to disrupt the forum from a distance, he did not succeed.

"I wouldn't really want to second guess his motivation but if that was his motivation, well it's not working anyway because the focus of discussions was not what is happening domestically in Fiji."

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi was unfazed about what was happening in Fiji, saying he hardly ever dealt with or saw Frank Bainimarama these days anyway.

"We presently, we are dealing [with him via] newspapers, because the fella's made himself very rare these days."

Leaders at the forum agreed to extend full membership to New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Some Pacific nations had been reluctant to allow the French to have more influence in the region.

Mr Key said there was debate in the leaders' retreat, particularly about the French territories not having responsibility for their own defence and foreign policy.

"They are geographically located in the Pacific and all of their energy and effort is in the Pacific, so it is true in terms of foreign policy or international personality they are France, but would that be at odds with what's going on [at the Forum]? I don't think so, I mean France is an observer here.

"In my experience of going to the forum, the vast bulk of issues that we talk about are things that happen in the Pacific."

The forum also recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations should remain on the agenda.

Fisheries management was also a big talking point, as it is the main economic driver in the region.

The executive director of fisheries in the Federated States of Micronesia, Eugene Pangelinan, said Pacific leaders were hugely concerned about the sustainability of the resource.

"The old days of illegal fishing and unlicensed boats, I think is almost gone, because market measures are in place and you've got states stepping up in terms of dealing with their own flags.

"It's the unreported catch aspect that I think is going to be the biggest challenge."

New Zealand also announced at the forum a $10 million programme to get children in the Pacific playing more sport, initially focussing on netball and rugby.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi was not too worried about New Zealand training up talent and then pinching the sporting stars for its own teams.

"In any sport, in any occupation, some people may go but the majority stay behind and those who go overseas whether it is in sports or occupation, remittances now rank top of the list as our foreign exchange earner."

Next year's Pacific Islands Forum will be held in Samoa.

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