CANBERRA (ABC PACIFIC) — Australia has been helping to broker the talks to bring Kiribati back into the fold, and Australian officials will be relieved to see Micronesian leaders strike this pact at a broader meeting of PIF leaders next week in Fiji.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong is also travelling to the Pacific next week, and is expected to visit Kiribati as Australia moves to mend its own bilateral ties with its President, Taneti Maamau.
Kiribati has drawn closer to China since extending diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 2019, and some opposition figures in the country have accused Chinese diplomats of encouraging President Maamau to split from the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Chinese foreign ministry has denied that claim.
Australian officials have also been concerned by the way President Maamau has systematically undermined the rule of law in Kiribati, after his government suspended three senior judges who blocked the deportation of High Court Justice David Lambourne.
It’s not yet clear if Senator Wong will meet with Lambourne or opposition MPs on her trip to Kiribati, but Australian government sources said the rapprochement between Kiribati and the Pacific Islands Forum would make it easier for the foreign minister to rebuild the relationship.
Meanwhile, all five Micronesian nations also endorsed a regional agreement which should pave the way for Kiribati to formally rejoin the Pacific’s peak political body, the Pacific Islands Forum, after its dramatic exit last year.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, leaders from Palau, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Marshall Islands said they “unanimously expressed their satisfaction of [sic] the critical reforms in the [Suva] Agreement”.
The Suva Agreement was hammered out in the wake of a damaging split over leadership which saw all five Micronesian nations temporarily leave the Forum, with Kiribati only finally agreeing to rejoin earlier this year after a visit by Fiji’s new prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka.
The Suva Agreement hands Micronesia the right to pick the next PIF secretary-general, and the Micronesian leaders have agreed that their candidate will come from Nauru.
Kiribati will be given the rights to host a new sub-regional PIF office to be established under the pact.
A statement issued by the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), David Panuelo said celebrated the unanimous endorsement of the Suva Agreement by Micronesian leaders.
FSM had also been keen to host the new sub-regional PIF office, but Mr Panuelo said in his statement that his nation was happy to cede that ground for the sake of unity.
“The MPS was a victory through humility; and what might be perceived as a loss for the FSM is, in fact, our greatest gain, for we have strengthened our Micronesian subregion, and will further strengthen our Blue Pacific Continent,” he said…. PACNEWS