Updated: Feb 13
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Leaders of the Micronesian nations have pushed the “pause” button on their withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum, pending the regional bloc’s response to reforms they have proposed.
During a virtual meeting on Feb. 11, the Micronesian Presidents Summit — comprising the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati — “discussed specific substantive reforms of the Pacific Island Forum and its leadership, and on the basis of consensus, have agreed to temporarily rescind their withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum.”
The Micronesian leaders have given the Forum until June to respond accordingly.
The subregional islands' decision to suspend their breakaway has averted the Forum's collapse amid the visit of State Secretary Antony Blinken.
The FSM’s exit from the Forum is scheduled to take effect on Feb. 14, following the one-year withdrawal process.
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On Friday, the FSM Department of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to Fiji, the Forum’s headquarters, advising its decision to “temporarily rescind” its withdrawal from the regional bloc.
While the group has agreed on a collective decision to put off their retreat from the Forum, each nation has a different timeline.
"Each member of the MPS is an individual member of the Forum and withdrawal is a national decision. As such, each country is to follow its own process that began in 2021 on different dates. With differing government systems, the process is not the same for all," said Landisang Kotaro, chief of staff of Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr.
"In light of the surge of Covid-19 in the region and the medical condition of the Forum chair, the 'pause' is to allow the PIF to address the concerns of the MPS, with a new deadline of June," Kotaro added.
The FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati initiated the one-year process of withdrawal from the regional bloc last year in protest over the Forum’s renouncement of a “gentlemen’s agreement” to rotate the leadership selection among member nations. It was their turn to take the leadership role.
During the Feb. 4, 2021 vote, the Forum picked Cooks Island Prime Minister Henry Puna over Marshall Islands' Ambassador Gerald Zackios, the Micronesian subregion’s candidate. Zackios lost by a single vote.
Prior to the election, leaders of the Micronesian region had repeatedly warned they would bolt out of the Forum if their turn to lead was shunned. A handshake is expected to be honored, an agreement is an agreement, they said.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we mistakenly wrote won by a single vote. Our sincere apologies for the inadvertent error.