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The outsider

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

The mending of Pacific unity restores regionalism, but Guam remains excluded

From the Publisher's Desk By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Regional leaders settled their differences in Nadi at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum retreat, where they toasted Kiribati’s return to the circle after moping in isolation for seven months. The event marked the Forum’s reunification, ending a diplomatic fracture sparked by the Micronesian subgroup’s walkout in 2020.

The mending of Pacific unity is seen as a crucial step toward the restoration of regionalism, which is considered vital to deflecting pressure from the world’s superpowers. But there remain some loose ends to tie up: Guam’s exclusion. The U.S. territory nestles on the periphery, like the odd man out who is not invited to the party.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero last year announced Guam’s plan to apply for membership in the Forum. “We are the epicenter of national security here in Guam. As a result of that, our notoriety and our importance are impacted,” the governor said, in a bid to make a case for the island’s Forum membership.

She didn’t fail to mention that during the U.S.-Pacific Island Summit last year, "I was actually sitting right next to the secretary of state.”

“(The seating) is because of our stature and our importance in the whole national security realm of the United States and because, also, of our great relationships with the federal government,” she said. “They saw us as a great impactor and influencer with our island nations.”


Ironically, however, her boastful justification for Guam’s membership in the Forum presented the very reason why the self-invitation received a cold shoulder. They see Guam’s American territory status as a dealbreaker.

The Forum comprises 18 members. Other than New Caledonia and French Polynesia, which are both French territories, all members are sovereign nations.

If New Caledonia and French Polynesia can be forum members, why can’t Guam?

Regional observers believe that Guam represents a scenario that the Forum seeks to avoid. It has deliberately declined to reserve seats for its external dialogue partners, such asChina and the U.S., lest they attempt to run the show.

Pacific geopolitics expert Tarcisius Kabutaulaka at the University of Hawaii warned that getting Guam on board would place the United States "firmly on the inside" of debates about China and other regional matters.

Washington has not been coy about courting the Forum, which it acknowledges to be a useful organization to further its policies in the region and keep China at bay. At the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit at the White House, President Biden announced $810 million in an expanded U.S. package, which includes more than $130 million in new investments to support climate resilience and build sustainable blue economies in the Pacific islands.

Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio disputes suggestions that Washington is behind Guam’s bid for Forum membership. For the most part, he is right. Guam is not expected to be a U.S. mouthpiece. Its colonial status and political association with the United States assume a relationship that occasionally entails negotiation. The partnership has a price tag.

Guam shares more in common with its Pacific neighbors. Besides being a magnet for aggression, Guam navigates the same challenges faced by every island nation— such as climate change, resources management and environmental threats among others— all of which are better dealt with through regional solidarity.

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