Published daily by the Lowy Institute

What happened at the Pacific Islands Forum

A historic hugs and dialling-down regional rivalries. How a week of Pacific diplomacy unfolded.

All in the family: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (front) takes a selfie with fellow leaders during the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva, 14 July (William West/AFP via Getty Images)
All in the family: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (front) takes a selfie with fellow leaders during the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva, 14 July (William West/AFP via Getty Images)
Published 15 Jul 2022 

  • The Suva Agreement – created in response to a broken handshake agreement over who would be the next Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General – was endorsed by all present members at the meeting in Fiji. Kiribati was unable to vote on it, being absent from the forum and withdrawn as a member over the fallout.
  • Forum Chair and Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama finally contacted Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau after days of failed attempts by numerous Pacific Island leaders. Nauru’s President Lionel Aingimea was charged with “trying to do everything to get hold of him”, said Palau’s President Surangel Whipps, who also tried messaging, to keep the dialogue open. 
  • Australia endorsed the forum’s climate change emergency declaration and backed Vaunatu’s bid to seek a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change. Australia’s commitments were welcomed, but, Bainimarama said, Australia still needs to more ambitiously commit to targets to hold global warming below 1.5 degrees.
  • Australia was not yelled at during the Leaders Meeting, and it finished on time, unlike 2019’s gathering, where leaders debated the realities of climate change with Australia’s then prime minister Scott Morrison for eight hours past the finish time. That 2019 debate resulted in acrimony, shouting, and tears.
  • China was not allowed to hold an online meeting with PIF leaders during the week, and the usual post-forum meeting with 21 Dialogue Partners including the United States was also postponed, because Bainimarama wanted to turn down the dial on geopolitical competition.
Bainamarama at PIF
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama (left) and PIF Secretary General Henry Puna after the launch of the 2050 Strategy (William WestAFP via Getty Images)

 

  • But, in a symbolic move from the Chair, Bainimarama invited US Vice President Kamala Harris to present a virtual address to the fisheries meeting. Harris committed the United States to a 10-year fisheries assistance plan and increased diplomatic engagement. Harris confirmed the strategy was designed in consultation with Pacific.
  • PIF Secretary General Henry Puna acknowledged China’s regional agreement was rejected by Pacific Island nations because it arrived prepared, with no consultation with Pacific leaders. He said, “if anybody knows what we want, what we need, and what our priorities are, it’s not other people, it’s us.”
  • Meanwhile, China’s representatives got into places they should not have been and were removed by Fijian police when alerted about their presence in forum dialogue rooms. But China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin denied they were in the wrong.  
  • The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent was launched, with Puna acknowledging “Pacific regionalism is not an easy thing to progress”.
Albanese and Sogavare
Anthony Albanese and Manasseh Sogavare (Joe Armao via Getty)

 

  • Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made a big splash at the Forum, winning friends and influencing people. His glorious first-time meet with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare demonstrated the start of what could be a good personal relationship. They greeted each other with open arms, while Sogavare said, “Ahhh, I need a hug!” They shared a laugh.
  • Albanese announced a trial for Pacific Island aged care workers to work in Queensland under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.
  • The week ended with Albanese saying the enhancement of Australia’s influence during the Forum must have an effect on the sway of other countries, hinting that his success would weaken China’s relationships with Pacific leaders.

Pacific Research Program



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