There’s time for review of Micronesia’s candidate: Palau President Whipps


“We want the best man/woman for the job, and we believe should come from Micronesia. There is still time for review, time to ask more questions from Nauru about this candidate,” said Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr in response to concerns raised about former President of Nauru Baron Waqa whom the Micronesian Presidents nominated to be the next Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum.

The appointment of Baron Waqa has been accepted by the Forum, said Whipps, but he will not assume the position until April of 2024.

Concerns have been raised around the Pacific about Waqa’s track record, such as his treatment of the opposition in their parliament, which led to some members of the parliament getting jailed or forced out of the country. Also, his alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers that were placed in Nauru.

President Whipps said that the response from Nauru was just smear campaigns against the former President of Nauru Waqa.

“There’s still time for review and for us to ask more questions of Nauru’s candidate, but we believe the candidate must come from Micronesia,” asserted Whipps.

Meanwhile, the appointment of a one-time China hardliner to lead the Forum bodes poorly for Beijing’s pursuit of closer economic ties in Oceania, analysts suggest.

Thus, to make any headway in the region during Waqa’s term, China should mind its manners, says Fabrizio Bozzato, a senior research fellow with the Tokyo-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s Ocean Policy Research Institute.

“I do not think that, as secretary general, he will be unremittingly hostile toward China, provided that Beijing sends congenial interlocutors showing due respect,” Bozzato said.

Waqa will turn out to be “a tough negotiator and an interlocutor ready to raise his voice – either to roar or to sing songs of partnership and cooperation”, Bozzato said.
Nauru is one of 14 nations worldwide that recognise Taiwan diplomatically rather than allying with mainland China. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Countries that have diplomatic ties with Beijing, including the U.S, acknowledge the existence of the One-China principle that holds Taiwan be part of China, but may not explicitly agree with it. Washington does not take a position on the status of Taiwan but arms it with missiles and military equipment while opposing any attempt to take the island by force.

In addition to Nauru, three other members of the 52-year-old Pacific Islands Forum – or 22 percent of its members – also recognise Taiwan over mainland China. They are Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Palau.

“It’s not surprising that this gentleman who comes from Nauru and recognises [Taiwan] rather than [China] has a particular way of looking at things,” said Victor Gao, vice-president of the Centre for China and Globalisation in Beijing.

“China will definitely continue working with that forum, regardless of who becomes leader, even though it’s absolutely true that a leader does have his fingerprints on what the institution will do.”

The Forum has become a venue for China to pitch economic-cooperation ideas, said Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii. The forum sometimes invites non-members, including China, to its events.