Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) Henry Puna acknowledges that there are heavy conversations ahead of us in his opening remarks at the PIFS Leaders Summit in Suva, Fiji, this morning.
This year’s PIFS Leaders meeting may well be a defining moment for the regional institution, the beacon of regional solidarity for many decades.
There most certainly will be heavy conversations in the coming days, Kiribati announced its withdrawal from PIFS just a day before the actual meeting, and China’s proposed security pact with some members of PIFS lurks large over the deliberations.
Henry Puna’s election over a Micronesian candidate had sparked tension in the organisation, with the five Micronesian nations claiming a right to see their candidate elected to the position under a long-held “gentlemen’s agreement” to rotate the job among the regions within the Forum.
Also, Pacific Island countries recently agreed not to sign a region-wide trade and security deal with China after a high-level meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts from 10 Pacific nations.
Chair of PIFS, Frank Bainimarama, remarked shortly after that meeting that “geopolitical point-scoring means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas.”
China's ambassador to Fiji, Qian Bo, seemed defiant, stating that “there has been general support from the… 10 countries [with] which we have diplomatic relations. But of course, there are some concerns on some specific issues," he said.
Henry Puna says there are certainly high ambitions for the coming week, and encourages leaders to “let our love for the blue Pacific guide us in the coming days.”