Nearly one-third of Forum members quit group . . .
Five of the Pacific Islands Forum’s 18 members have quit the group over a leadership change dispute. Per custom, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia take turns filling the forum's six-year secretary-general position. Accordingly, last week's leadership vote was to go to a candidate from Micronesia. But in a 9-to-8 vote, the job went instead to a candidate from Polynesia – the former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Henry Puna. It is still not clear why so many members broke with precedent. Palau was the first to leave in protest. The other countries that make up the Forum’s Micronesia sub-group – the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, and Nauru – soon followed.
Pandemic and climate challenges . . .
The Fiji-headquartered PIF is the most influential dialogue mechanism in the region. Its members appeared to be working well together throughout the last year, co-ordinating their responses to pandemic-related health and economic issues. Pandemic-related travel restrictions have devastated much of the group’s tourism- and fisheries-dependent economies. To make matters worse, many members suffered some of the strongest-ever seasonal storms, thought to be intensifying due to climate change. But climate change concerns are not only about storms; rising temperatures threaten to drastically reshape or submerge many of the islands. The PIF had also been working with international partners to ensure that the pandemic did not derail climate action initiatives.
PIF rifts . . .
Rifts in the PIF are nothing new. The Forum has long dealt with inequalities among its members – some are independent states, while others have some sort of association with France, the U.S., Australia, or New Zealand. With the recent departure of five members, the PIF now lacks representatives from north of the equator. Some pundits have questioned whether the need to rely on virtual platforms is partially to blame for the rift. For nearly a year, the personal meetings that normally enable nuanced relationship-building have not occurred. Regardless of PIF infighting, members will still need to deal with the dual challenges of economic recovery and climate change amidst ongoing regional geo-politicking by China, Taiwan, and the U.S.
- The Diplomat: A tiff at PIF? Pacific Islands Forum leadership change triggers frustration
- The Guardian: Pacific Islands Forum in crisis as one-third of member nations quit
- Radio New Zealand: Five Micronesian countries leave Pacific Islands Forum