The Pacific Islands Forum has been shocked by the sudden withdrawal of Kiribati from the region’s top diplomatic body.
The unexpected move caused the finger to be pointed at China and its possible influence over the Micronesian state, as Kiribati was the only nation in Micronesia where Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had stopped over.
Even if the meeting was brief, Mr Wang had put forward China’s wider trade and security deal which it had proposed to 10 Pacific nations.
Most nations in this case wanted the deal put through the Forum as the trade deal had a regional implication.
However, in a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry, Beijing has denied allegations that it played any part in Kiribati’s move, calling the allegations groundless.
“For years, China and the PIF have (enjoyed) sound cooperative relations. I would like to stress that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of Pacific Islands countries (PICs) and hopes to see greater solidarity and closer cooperation among PICs for common development,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said in the statement.
Even Micronesian leaders present at the Forum leaders meeting were shocked and saddened by Kiribati’s move.
They have been left questioning why Kiribati would do this.
The Micronesian Presidents’ Summit which is a forum type setup for the Micronesian countries is likely to release a joint statement concerning Kiribati’s departure.
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo is a key figure from the Micronesian bloc who was part of the formation of the Suva Agreement, the document which ended the Micronesian squabble regarding the Henry Puna issue.
The Suva Agreement would have put a Micronesian at the helm of the Forum and a separate Pacific Ocean Commissioner’s Office would have been set up.
It favoured Micronesia more than ever and FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau had already signed it.
Even now if the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit goes back and votes on the withdrawal of Micronesia from the Forum, more votes would be against the idea.
This year alone has shown that the Pacific needs to act as a unit.
Despite the move by Kiribati, the Forum and its partners including US, Australia and New Zealand have said that their aid to the nation would continue as such things came without strings attached.
The state of affairs in Kiribati were in disarray leading to the withdrawal from the Forum. Just two weeks ago, Kiribati President Teneti Maamau had suspended its chief justice and a few weeks before that a judge.
Meanwhile in Kiribati, people were coming to terms with the decision by the president regarding the Forum.
The matter was not put to the parliament nor were the people provided the opportunity of a referendum.