SUVA, Fiji. — As world leaders gather in Fiji for their first in-person summit in two years, the Pacific Islands Forum has been overshadowed by Kiribati’s decision to leave the crucial regional diplomatic organization. Kiribati is a remote Pacific island nation.
During their meeting from July 11–14, Pacific island leaders will discuss China’s aspirations for stronger security ties throughout the region as well as how to attract more international assistance and funding to combat the effects of climate change and rising sea levels.
There was also going to be discussion about China’s security agreement with the Solomon Islands and its attempt to sign a larger regional trade and security agreement with 10 countries that recognize China, which is opposed by some forum members.
The announcement of Kiribati’s withdrawal surprised and saddened Simon Kofe, the foreign minister of Tuvalu, who added that when Pacific leaders meet, they should “look at the concerns raised by Kiribati.”
According to minutes from a meeting held on Friday, foreign ministers from 16 countries in the South Pacific decided to keep in touch with Kiribati, which is perceived as being close to Beijing, to “emphasize the strength of the Pacific family.”
In an interview with Reuters on Monday in Suva, Mr. Kofe stated that “many of us at the table were not fully aware of the extent Kiribati was moving towards withdrawing from the forum.”
“It is discouraging… The decision to move forward now rests with the leaders, he continued.
President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati announced in a letter that his nation would leave the Forum because it disagreed with the terms of a deal mediated a few weeks ago to end a dispute between Micronesian states and other Forum members, as well as the continuation of forum secretary-general Henry Puna in that position. In addition, Kiribati wanted the meeting postponed.
A letter from Kiribati to the Pacific Island Forum secretariat, which was distributed to several Pacific media outlets on Sunday, stated that Kiribati had “taken the sovereign decision to withdraw from the Pacific Island Forum with immediate effect.”
A request for comment was not answered by the Kiribati president’s office, and Puna, the secretary general of the forum, has not responded.
On Thursday, a retreat for key forum leaders will take place. On the same day, China had suggested that the international office of the Chinese Communist Party and 10 Pacific islands hold a video conference.
According to Mr. Kofe, Friday’s meeting covered the “geopolitical rivalry and tug of war that we are currently witnessing between China and the US,” and ministers stated that “the Pacific really needs to define their future themselves and the terms in which we will engage China and the US.”