Micronexit was ‘just as well’
By Jasmine Stole Weiss
By next year, five Micronesian nations will officially exit the Pacific Islands Forum, smarting from the bloc leadership’s move to snub the subregion’s candidate for secretary general. Micronexit highlights the longstanding low-intensity conflict between the South Pacific and the North Pacific.
They might as well divorce, according to Father Francis X. Hezel, a Micronesian scholar.
“I don't think there's any need of the forum like this. I don't know that it was serving great purposes anyway,” said Hezel, former director of Micronesian Seminar and Jesuit priest who spent the last 50-plus years living in, working, and studying Micronesia. “Actually, I think that it’s probably just as well
Micronesians did what they did. I honestly do think that the division was there all along.”
Hezel founded and directed the Micronesian Seminar, a church-sponsored research institute that engaged in a broad public education program for the islands. He is the author of several books on the region’s history and culture, including “The First Taint of Civilization,” “Strangers in Their Own Land,” “The New Shape of Old Island Cultures” and a monograph on the early Spanish period in the Marianas. Hezel also produced a seven-hour video series on the history of Micronesia. He was sworn in as a member of the University of Guam Board of Regents in 2019. Hezel will be completing the term of former Regent Hyo Sang Ji, whose term goes until Jan. 19, 2022, at which point Hezel will have the option to serve a full six-year term.
In 1982-1983, the United States struck the Compacts of Free Association deal with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Marshall Islands. The treaties came with U.S. monetary aid for the northern Pacific island nations. It was a “cozy deal,” Hezel said.
When the forum voted for Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna to be secretary-general, it broke a “gentlemen’s agreement” that leadership would be rotated among Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia.
Micronesian leaders understood one of their own to be up next, settling on Marshall Islands Ambassador Gerald Zackios as their candidate. Micronesian leaders repeatedly warned they’d quit if the agreement wasn’t honored and, when the votes came down placing Puna in the top spot, the leaders made good on their promise. Palau, the FSM, Marshall Islands, and Nauru started the process to withdraw from the PIF, which will take effect by February 2022.
The statement said the leaders at the Micronesian Presidents' Summit largely discussed how leaving the PIF impacted assistance from foreign donors.
“I don't think the impact is going to be as serious as people think, because I think that right now the Pacific Island countries are being courted, or will be courted,” Hezel said of the Micronesian leaders’ decision to leave PIF.
In October 2020, the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization Rand Corporation examined what comes out of a fractured PIF, noting that “a divided Pacific Islands Forum would likely present several opportunities and challenges for China and the United States—both PIF dialogue partners— as their competition ramps up in Oceania.”