Updated: Jun 8
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum and its subregional groups have reached a consensus on leadership rotation and equal representation, averting the organization’s collapse amid growing geopolitical tension in the region.
“A black cloud has disappeared from the Pacific with sunshine after a fresh rain in its stead,” Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said in a statement.
Leaders of the regional bloc and the Micronesian subregion agreed on a reform package that will institutionalize a formal process for leadership rotation instead of relying on handshakes.
Micronesia will be the next member to hold the secretary general position beginning 2024 for a term of five years. The forum chair position will also be open to the subregional groups.
“The Pacific Islands Forum agreed that equal representation of the three sub-regional bodies of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia is essential,” states a press release from Panuelo's office “As such, there shall be two deputy secretary-general positions, each hailing from a separate sub-region as the secretary-general.”
The FSM, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati -- which form the Micronesian Presidents' Summit-- last year threatened to pull out of the forum when their candidate for secretary general was passed over despite a “gentlemen’s agreement” that it was their turn to hold the position.
The forum's Fiji faction shunned Marshall Islands Ambassador Gerald Zackios in favor of Henry Puna, Cook Islands’ former prime minister.
The “Micronexit” was scheduled to take effect this year, but Micronesian leaders suspended their withdrawal from the regional bloc until June 30 pending reforms.
The agreement on the proposed reform package was reached during the high-level political dialogue held in Fiji on June 6 and 7. The two-day meeting was designed to resolve the impasse and explore “needed genuine political reforms” to avoid the disintegration of the forum membership.”
The reform package also includes the creation of the position of Pacific Ocean commissioner that will be held by Micronesia, as well as the formation of the Micronesia subregional office under the forum’s umbrella.
“To be clear, we have won. All of us have won— Micronesians, Polynesians, Melanesians all— because we, the Pacific, have achieved a means of making our Pacific Islands Forum truly represent us all,” Panuelo said.
Pacific island leaders broke the impasse amid escalating crises besetting the region such as the threats of climate change and regional instability triggered by a diplomatic tug-of-war among the world's superpowers.
China's growing clout in the region, which was highlighted by its security treaty with the Solomon Islands, brings anxiety to the U.S. and its regional allies.
“We, the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit and the Pacific Islands Forum, have collectively found a way to keep our Pacific family unified, to make it stronger against external and internal pressures, and with Micronesia’s appeals respectfully heard and addressed by our brothers and sisters in Polynesia and Melanesia,” Panuelo said.
"All things considered, the leaders present in the meeting acknowledged the opportunity to meet and discuss regional and Pacific Islands Forum-related issues in-person in Suva, and reaffirmed the value of Talanoa and the Pacific Way," he added.
Kiribati was not present at the meeting. Panuelo said the four Micronesian leaders were "attempting to get in contact with Kiribati to garner their support for the proposed reforms."