Pacific family to reunite in Fiji after Forum drama


Pacific reunification should be sealed in Fiji when Kiribati is welcomed back into the fold after a Micronesian splinter.

In recent years, the blue continent has seen strategic jostling between China and the United States for influence and diplomatic wrangling among Pacific players.

Regional leaders hope to patch up differences in Nadi at a Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) retreat on Friday which will bring together the 18 member nations.

Top of the agenda is formalising a power-sharing deal brokered by Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

Kiribati sensationally walked from the key regional body, upset with a broken agreement to rotate the PIF leadership between the sub-regions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

All five Micronesian nations won concessions as they were wooed back to the regional body, with Nauru to provide the next PIF secretary general.

In Fiji on Wednesday ahead of the retreat, it was all smiles between two of the standoff’s key players – current Secretary General Henry Puna and Kiribati president Taneti Maamau – who embraced with a hug.

“This special leaders meeting demonstrates leaders’ dedicated commitment to building PIF solidarity and unity,” Puna said.

The key question is whether this new pact will hold, or will new ructions come to the fore.

Australia and New Zealand, the two regional powerhouses, are among the few countries not to send their leaders.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has dispatched Foreign Minister Penny Wong for her ninth visit to the Pacific since taking office less than nine months ago.

Before touching down in Fiji she visited Kiribati, meeting Maamau and signing a strategic tie-up.

Under the deal, Australia will gift Kiribati a patrol boat, its second in two years, upgrade police facilities and personnel, and help build a wharf.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will also miss the occasion, with deputy Carmel Sepuloni to attend in his place.

Sepuloni is the most senior government leader of Pacific descent in NZ’s history.

“We have a fantastic relationship and want to make sure at we are good partners to Pacific island nations,” she told AAP.

“I think we are trusted in the Pacific.

“Clearly, there are some areas that are priority for the Pacific that are a priority for us – Pacific resilience and things like climate change – and so we’ll continue to work on those.”

Leaders will also discuss Japan’s plan to release wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Japan wants to release more than one million tons of water contaminated in the 2011 disaster caused by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

While Japan has treated the water, many in the Pacific – which has a painful history of nuclear testing – want assurances of safety.

Incoming PIF chair, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, led a delegation to Japan earlier this month and will report back to the leaders’ retreat.

The meeting also marks the formal handover of the chair from Fiji to the Cook Islands.