Engaging Kiribati to return to the Pacific Islands Forum will begin soon, according to the chair of the Forum and Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.
Kiribati dropped the bombshell of its withdrawal on the eve of the Forum Leaders meeting in Suva in July.
In a letter to the Forum general secretary Henry Puna, the president of Kiribati Taneti Maamau gave his reasons for the withdrawal which included the Forum’s failure to listen to certain demands by the Micronesian state.
Mr Bainimarama said the Fijian Minister for Fisheries, Semi Koroilavesau travelled to Kiribati last week to hand over the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee.
He was accompanied by his special envoy in order to initiate re-engagement discussions in-person with the Government of Kiribati, including around its decision to withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum.
“I and my Government respect the position that has been taken by President Maamau and his Government. As Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, I remain committed to ensuring the solidarity and unity of the region. It is increasingly clear that we are stronger when we are united as one region in confronting a dynamic, challenging, and fluid strategic environment,” Mr Bainimarama said.
“Building on the very valuable discussions had between my Special Envoy and the Vice President of Kiribati Dr Teuea Toatu, I and the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum remain committed to beginning the re-engagement process with Kiribati, as agreed in the Forum Leaders meeting in Suva last month.”
Mr Bainimarama said despite not being a member of the forum, Kiribati will always be integral members of the Blue Pacific Continent.
He said the Pacific island nations shared a rich history, a vast ocean and a Pacific culture that had withstood and would continue to withstand the test of time.
Forum leaders have remained committed to a dialogue with the Government of Kiribati to explore options for closer diplomatic engagement between Kiribati and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Kiribati has become the centre of attention in the last few months. Regional partners including China, United States, Australia and New Zealand have made their presence felt in Kiribati.
The US Embassy in Suva has made more trips to Kiribati in the last two months than it had in 2019 before the pandemic. Last week, the US gave grants to civil society organisations in Kiribati.
The island nation is a key strategic location and the US is worried that China could easily move into Kiribati and set up a military base in the region.
For the region and the forum, Kiribati is needed so the 2050 Strategic Blueprint for a Blue Pacific Continent can actually become a reality.
For now, the head of the island nation is mum on his intent to re-engage.