As regional bloc regroups, Micronesian group seeks bigger role in PIF
Updated: Feb 17
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
With Kiribati’s return to the Pacific Islands Forum bonding the regional bloc back in shape, the Micronesian group is seeking more active participation in the organization, starting with a bid to secure a leadership position.
During its retreat on Feb. 13, the Micronesian President Summit endorsed Nauru to be the next secretary general of the Forum beginning in 2024 and proposed the establishment of a sub-regional office in Kiribati and the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in Palau.
“Sometimes the route to victory is through humility, and sometimes a perceived loss is the greatest gain imaginable,” Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said. “The MPS has five members, and we had four items of elemental importance to take care of—that is, who gets what, and who hosts what.”
The Forum crumbled in 2020 when the subregional group— consisting of the FSM, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati—left the regional bloc following the Fiji faction’s move to skip over Marshall Islands Ambassador Gerald Zackios’ candidacy for secretary general in favor of Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna despite an earlier agreement to rotate the leadership position among member countries.
The FSM, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Nauru last year reconsidered their exit from the bloc as a result of the Suva Agreement that listed reform packages addressing the concerns raised by the Micronesian nations. Kiribati President Taneti Maamau, however, announced full withdrawal from the bloc, saying his country wasn’t part of the Suva deal.
Forum chair and Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka’s persistent efforts to convince Maamau to return to the fold eventually paid off.
“The presidents of the MPS welcomed the decision by Kiribati to return to the Pacific Islands Forum, and acknowledged with appreciation Kiribati’s reaffirmation that their brotherhood and sisterhood with the MPS was never fractured,” a press release from the FSM government said.
“Micronesia has so much to showcase to the region and to the world," Rabuka said at the opening of the MPS meeting, to which he was invited by Panuelo.
"[Micronesians are] leaders in climate and ocean advocacy, and collectively you are the largest custodian of our Blue Pacific. This is why your voice is so important in our regional settlements. The [Blue Pacific] region and the future of our Forum family are now in your hands. We are looking to you, all of you, for your leadership," Rabuka added.
Panuelo said having an international office in Kiribati, as proposed by the MPS, would be the first for the island nation.
“They deserve it, and it makes my heart glad. As chair, I really want to make sure that my MPS brothers and sisters are happy,” Panuelo said. “As chair of the MPS and as an advocate for Pacific unity, I felt that it was, in part, the FSM’s responsibility to ensure that our collective Micronesian subregion emerges stronger together—for our own sake, as well as the sake of the Pacific at large.”