PIF hasn’t given up on Kiribati
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Pacific Islands Forum has initiated a diplomatic dialogue with Kiribati in the hope of persuading the Pacific nation to return to the fold.
“I remain committed to ensuring the solidarity and unity of the region,” said Josaia V. Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and chair of the Forum. “It is increasingly clear that we are stronger when we are united as one region in confronting a dynamic, challenging and fluid strategic environment.”
The Forum confronted a crushing crisis last year when five Micronesian nations – Palau, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Kiribati – announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc due to PIF’s failure to elect the Micronesian-backed candidate Gerald Zackios for the position of secretary general.
A compromise reached in June eventually convinced the FSM, Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru to reconsider their exit. But Kiribati has sealed its decision to leave the Forum, resenting the four other nations’ move to enter into an agreement with the Forum leaders without its presence at the 51st Forum meeting.
“On behalf of Forum leaders, let me reaffirm that the people and government of Kiribati will always be integral members of the Blue Pacific Continent,” Bainimarama said.
While respecting Kiribati’s decision, the Fiji prime minister noted that Pacific island nations “share a rich history; we share a vast ocean, and we share a culture that has withstood and will continue to withstand the test of time.”
Bainimarama said the Forum is inclined to explore options to retain its closer diplomatic engagement with Kiribati.
Late last month, Semi Koroilavesau, Fiji’s fisheries minister, traveled to Kiribati to hand over the chairmanship of the Forum Fisheries Committee.
Also acting as Bainimarama's special envoy, Koroilavesau initiated “re-engagement discussions” with Kiribati’s vice president, Dr. Teuea Toatu.
“I and the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum remain committed to beginning the re-engagement process with Kiribati,” Bainimarama said, thanking Kiribati officials who “have initiated a small step in what is a sensitive yet crucial journey of re-engagement that will ensure a stronger, more inclusive, and more responsive Pacific Islands Forum.”
Observers underscored the significance of getting Kiribati back in the bloc to strengthen the region's efforts to solidify its grounds amid the growing geopolitical tension in the region.
In 2019, Kiribati dumped Taiwan and switched to China.
As Beijing and Washington vie for influence, prominent leaders in the region stressed the importance of keeping the diplomatic sovereignty of island nations intact in order for them to remain a solid bloc rather than being plucked apart.
In June, Beijing offered a major economic initiative that was rejected by 10 Pacific island nations.