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Navigating the regional organizations in the Pacific




These Islands By Robert Underwood

In today’s Pacific island world, there is no shortage of regional efforts, meetings and organizations. If you have an idea and cannot connect it to some regional concept, it really is not worth having. Of course, the paramount group is the Pacific Islands Forum.


Between the Micronesians threatening to leave, being invited to the White House, and being the object of overtures from China and the United States, 2022 was an eventful year for PIF.


There are other groups like the Pacific Community and the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders. The Pacific Community, formerly the South Pacific Commission, includes territories and colonial powers like the United Kingdom, United States and France. The euphemistic “metropolitan country” seems like an anachronism in the 21st century.


The Pacific Island Conference of Leaders (PICL) is primarily sponsored and supported by the East-West Center in Honolulu. The center is supported by U.S. federal funds and features an annual meeting with key American leaders, including the president. PICL is pronounced “pickle,” aptly describing the tricky situation in which island leaders sometimes find themselves with the United States.

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There are organizations based in intra-Pacific regions. The Melanesian Spearhead Group (yes to this MSG) is composed of four independent Melanesian countries, New Caledonia, as well as Indonesia and East Timor, which both hold membership with observer status.


The Polynesian Leaders Group includes four sovereign nations including New Zealand; and eight territories that include the state of Hawaii.


Not to be outdone, the Micronesians have two separate regional leader organizations. The Micronesian Presidents Summit (MPS) includes the leaders of the five independent nations. This group excludes territories.


The Micronesian Islands Forum (MIF), on the other hand, includes territories, including Guam and the Northern Marianas, and opens its membership to the governors of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia.


This approach was not used in the Melanesia or Polynesia subregional groups. They both have one organization and include territories.


The MPS and MIF met last month in Palikir, Pohnpei to discuss a number of issues. Apparently, MIF is no longer miffed at the way they were treated by PIF.


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The communique issued by the MPS made a special mention of Kiribati’s return to PIF. Additionally, the entire group was addressed by Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. These highly publicized steps meant that Micro-exit was not going any further. The theme of the MPS/MIF meetings was “Paddling Together for a Stronger Micronesia.” On this matter, they were rowing in the same direction.


The communique issued on Feb. 13 also mentioned the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the MPS, which will be located in the FSM. There was also the announcement of a plan to build a One UN Micronesia House to be built in Kolonia, Pohnpei. This center will house 19 international agencies and employ 100+ staffers.


The MPS summit was visited by a Saudi Arabian delegation. The Micronesian leaders solicited them to support the building of the One UN Micronesia House. This seems connected to Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr.’s visit to Riyadh in January. Perhaps votes at the United Nations are on the table.


FSM President David Panuelo, who presided over the meeting, made clear that in the middle of great power rivalry, his country stands with the Pacific “before anyone else.” This did not keep the MPS from chastising Russia for its “illegal, brutal and unjustified” invasion of Ukraine.


They also received a security briefing from Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas. The nature and depth of the security briefing were unclear.


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However, there was a lot of conversation about the expanded role of the U.S. Coast Guard to assist in dealing with illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities. IUU has become part of the lexicon of increased U.S. military presence in the region. I wonder how many actual IUUs were outed in recent months.


The MIF meeting dealt with reports from various committees but did not take on any high-level political issues. Having both meetings around the same time put the MIF out of focus.


The Blue Continent consists of several different ecosystems. There are the Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian subregional groups. There are also territorial and sovereign ecosystems. Navigating these ecosystems is critical to dealing with real threats to real ecosystems like climate change.


Dr. Robert Underwood is the former president of the University of Guam and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Send feedback to anacletus2010@gmail.com.



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