Pacific Islands Forum moves on
Last week the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders met for a special retreat. Top of the agenda was welcoming Kiribati back to the group after its withdrawal last year. In addition, the full membership accepted the terms put forward by the Micronesian leaders to give effect to the Suva Agreement.
Baron Waqa of Nauru will take over as Secretary-General of the Forum in 2024. Waqa is something of a controversial choice given the numerous issues associated with his tenure as President of his country.
The current Deputy Secretary-General, Dr Filimon Manoni will take on the role of Pacific Ocean Commissioner with his office to be domiciled in Palau. A PIF sub-regional office will be established in Kiribati.
The Leaders also agreed to examine options to establish a PIF envoy to the US and the United Nations to reflect the increased level of interest in Pacific engagement in both Washington and New York.
Papua New Guinea/Australia ministerial forum
The 29th PNG/Australia ministerial forum was held recently in Canberra. It was chaired by Hon Justin Tkatchenko for PNG and Senator Penny Wong for Australia. Ministers from many portfolios in both countries took part in the meeting. This reflects the multi-faceted nature of the relationship between Australia and PNG.
The ministers recommitted to the Comprehensive Strategic & Economic Partnership (CSEP) which operates across six pillars. A key commitment is to make more progress on providing work opportunities in Australia for Papua New Guineans via the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) mechanisms. Both sides recognised the need for access to visas for this to happen.
Other items that were discussed include the ongoing work towards a bilateral security treaty and getting a PNG rugby league team into the Australian national competition.
The PNG delegation voiced its support for Australia’s bid to host COP31 with the Pacific islands region.
Other Pacific News:
Vanuatu is in the path of Tropical Cyclone Judy which is predicted to reach Category 3 as it crosses the country. Another weather system is forming which may affect the country at the end of the week.
A group of researchers was kidnapped in a remote area of the Papua New Guinea highlands. A professor from an Australian university was among the group, all of whom have been released. PNG authorities have yet to make any arrests.
Fiji has despatched a disaster response group, including a detachment from the Royal Fiji Military Forces, to assist with the clean-up in New Zealand following the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle.
China has appointed a special envoy to Pacific island countries. This senior diplomatic role will be taken on by Qian Bo, who was formerly the Chinese Ambassador to Fiji. He is expected to provide coordination of Chinese state activities in the region.
Benny Wenda has met with Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka of Fiji. Wenda has lobbied the PM to support the United Liberation Movement for West Papua gaining full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.