Micronesian leaders meet Monday to decide on withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum


02:40 am GMT+12, 05/02/2021, Fiji

The fall-out from the election of a new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) continues with two Micronesian leaders adamant to leave the 18 member grouping of Pacific nations.

Nauru President, Lionel Aingimea stands by the joint decision of the Micronesia Leaders Forum to ‘leave the Pacific Islands Forum if the gentlemen’s agreement is not honoured.’

Releasing a statement today, President Aingimea said the eventual decision to quit the Forum group or not rests on a meeting of Micronesian leaders to be convened on Monday 08 February.

“To say we are disappointed is an understatement. The disappointment is with the total disregard of Micronesia’s request to honour the gentleman’s agreement that the position of secretary general is rotated among the three sub-regions of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia, said President Aingimea
Micronesia has only held the SG of the Forum post once, while Melanesia and Polynesia have each held the position three times.

“Reform of the process is needed for a fairer process so that each sub-region has that opportunity to lead the organisation, which the President says may lead to in-fighting and anger amongst members.

He wants included in the reform the formalisation of the gentlemen’s agreement in the selection of future heads of the Suva-based Forum Secretariat.

The Nauru leader said if the Forum doesn’t respect the position of the Micronesia sub-regional group, “It is better off withdrawing from the Forum.”

He called out Fiji’s election to the Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council as an example of regional solidarity to support a member country.

“When other Pacific countries come to Nauru for the support to stand with them on international issues, we will stand with them.

“Fiji approached Nauru seeking support for the election of their candidate to the UN Human Rights Council for presidency and Nauru stood by them, the Nauru President reminded Forum member countries.

Reacting to Thursday’s vote, in an interview with ABC News, the President of Micronesia, David Panuelo reiterated the position of Micronesia leaders, saying; “If there’s no trust and recognition of the rotation of the sub-regions of the Pacific, then there’s really no reason to remain in the Pacific Islands Forum.”

“The close election result is a demonstration that we have not embraced the Pacific Way. What we have seen is a failure of the Pacific Way, in my opinion. Some countries which privately would discuss at length the existence and mechanics of the Gentleman’s Agreement would later tell the Forum at large that it doesn’t exist. Whether the Gentleman’s Agreement is written or unwritten, it is very telling that some countries will tell you one thing to your face, and another thing to a larger audience, President Panuelo told Liam Fox of ABC News.

President Panuelo observed first-hand how leaders, even the senior leaders of the Forum did not listen to the plea from Micronesia to get a chance to lead the Pacific Islands Forum.

“I believe that’s a really huge fracture in the unity and the spirit of cooperation among the members of the vast Pacific region that we have.

“The PIF must be inclusive; if [Gerald] Zackios was the Secretary General we would see a genuinely inclusive Pacific. What we have seen is a South Pacific that looks down on the North Pacific, and we find that it is deeply unfortunate.”

The FSM President doesn’t see any major implication in withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum.

“I don’t see much of that being the case. We do our relations bilaterally, multilaterally, we’re a member of the United Nations, and we’re a member of most of the CROP Agencies so our membership in the Pacific Islands Forum doesn’t impact our relationship or our membership in the Forum Fisheries Agency, the SPC, and the rest of the organisations. And it’s unfortunate that this unity, through the vote, was not demonstrated in the way that we hoped it will, in solidifying the Pacific Island Countries, said President Panuelo.

Reacting on twitter, two former Micronesian leaders, Hilda Heine and Tommy Remengesau expressed their disappointment at the outcome of the vote.

“The failure to live up to the promise of Leader’s gentlemen’s agreements is disappointing and damaging to our regional solidarity, said Heine, former President of Marshall Islands who was party to the decision to nominate Ambassador Zackios for the SG position.

Remengesau of Palau said, “In not honouring the well-known gentlemen’s agreement, the process left a bad taste in our mouths and the realisation that Micronesian countries could never be integral or significant players in the PIF.

Globally respected climate activist from Marshall Islands, Kathy Kijiner said on twitter, “Disappointed that Micronesia’s voice wasn’t recognised and honoured. This PIF outcome taught me a lot – mostly that Polynesia hegemony exists in real structural ways. Won’t be forgetting this anytime soon!

Former Cook Islands Prime Minister, Henry Puna was elected secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum in a 9-8 vote on Thursday morning.



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