Kiribati’s boycott of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting and decision to eventually withdraw from the Forum has rocked the key diplomatic body in the Pacific.
People in Kiribati including government officials are in shock because there was no political discussions in Kiribati itself that such a decision would be taken.
It was supposed to be a show of unity as all Pacific nations wanted a regional voice on matters to do with the Pacific.
The President of Kiribati Taneti Maamau in a letter to Forum secretary general Henry Puna said Kiribati was withdrawing from the Forum because of the decision to appoint Mr Puna, and that the PIF did not consider the celebration of its national day which falls on Tuesday.
The former issue had almost been resolved as four of the five Micronesian countries had signed the Suva Agreement which will see the next secretary general come from the Micronesian region among other changes at the helm.
Kiribati is of the view that the Suva Agreement was made without their involvement.
It was the only nation that did not sign the Suva Agreement and something which the Kiribati government will not be doing now.
The agreement, according to the President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo, united the Pacific.
Kiribati was one of the nations which was part of the whirlwind visit by China’s foreign minister Wang Yi in June this year.
A deal was offered to Kiribati as well as other Pacific nations however most Pacific nations wanted a regional consensus on the trade and security deals.
From the outset of the Forum Foreign Ministers meeting last week, it was clear that the issue of China would take a backseat and the 2050 Strategy would take priority.
Dr Wesley Morgan, a senior researcher at the Climate Council said this act by Kiribati could have an effect on the geopolitical situation in the Pacific especially when the region is trying to have a blue continent.
China’s role in this is unclear but speculation has already started.
Mr Maamau in the letter said Kiribati will continue to work with Pacific nations in areas of mutual concern and hoped that the impasses between Kiribati and the rest of the Pacific would be resolved by dialogue and discussion.
Meanwhile work is being done in the background to get the Kiribati head of government to Fiji. Australia is deeply involved along with the Pacific Forum chair, who are trying to get Mr Mamaau to attend even if they have to fly him in on a chartered plane.
Australia’s Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy said the Forum was a powerful voice for the region.
Kiribati’s opposition leader and its first president Sir Ieremia Tabai said he only found out about Kiribati’s decision after being contacted by the media.
He said the decision made by the current leader needs to be explained to the people of Kiribati.
The Kiribati president’s recent decisions have been questionable. Two weeks ago he suspended the nation’s chief justice and in May he suspended a judge without much reason.
The Pacific Forum Leaders meeting will start without Kiribati, and its effect will be known in the coming days.