TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Kiribati breaks away from Forum
Just as the 51st meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders was about to get underway Kiribati threw an enormous spanner in the works.
In a letter to the Secretary-General of the Forum, President Teneti Maamau, set out a number of reasons for his decision to withdraw his country from the 18-member Forum. It is clear from the tone and the content of the letter that he does not consider the Suva Agreement to be what is needed to address the concerns he has about representation and participation in Forum processes and mechanisms.
It is not clear what has driven this decision in Tarawa and many are pointing to Chinese influence. Whilst this may have been a factor, it is also reflective of an increasingly isolationist tendency on the part of the Maamau government.
This is a huge blow to regional solidarity and a big disappointment for the Fiji government as this year’s Forum Chair.
Outcomes of the Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
The Forum Foreign Ministers’ meeting convened on July 8. It was held in a hybrid format to allow for participation by as many participants as possible.
The meeting plays a key role in finalising the agenda for the Leaders’ meeting and previews what is likely to be included in the communiqué that is released after the retreat.
The Outcomes Statement makes for interesting reading. A key point is that Pacific Leaders will declare a “climate emergency” that is harming livelihoods, security and wellbeing in the region. Of particular interest in Vanuatu will be the decisions relating to the campaign to secure an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice. The Ministers commended the work that has been done so far and endorsed a recommendation that Pacific Leaders call for a UN General Assembly resolution to make that request.
Benny Wenda issues a call to the Pacific Islands Forum
Benny Wenda arrived recently in Port Vanuatu. Wenda leads the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua, and is the interim President of the West Papua Provisional Government.
Ahead of the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, Wenda called on the region’s leaders to follow through on a commitment they made whilst in Tuvalu in 2019. At that meeting the Leaders called on the UN Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua to look into reported abuses by the Indonesian government.
That visit has not taken place. This issue does not appear to be on the agenda for the Leaders’ meeting in retreat on Thursday.
On the sidelines of the Forum, the leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meet tomorrow to transfer the chair from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu. A special leaders’ meeting will be convened in Port Vila later this year.
PNG elections ongoing
The elections in Papua New Guinea are underway. The level of disorganisation has been a source of concern and complaint. Whilst people in some parts of the country have reported that they were able to vote safely and smoothly that has been far from uniform across the country.
Even in the National Capital District, there was chaos and tension as polling booths did not open when expected, people had to wait in long lines, and many names were missing from the rolls. On Monday there were reports that a woman had been killed after police opened fire on crowds waiting to vote.
James Marape has been declared the winner in his electorate of Tari-Pori District. It is expected that this will give him something of a head start when the negotiations to form government commence. In the meantime he has left PNG to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.