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February 26, 2021
News Pacific

PIF: Pacific Leaders Row over Membership

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by Allanah Leahy – EM TV Online

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi condemned Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s decision to not attend the Pacific Islands Forum, this September, while Australia and New Zealand remain partners.

Fiji’s foreign affairs minister, Ratu Kubuabola told Australian officials in early April that either Australia or New Zealand should withdraw their ‘full’ membership from the forum. 

Recently-elected Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, said Australia and New Zealand should instead shift their status to ‘observers’ or ‘development partners’. Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi dismissed the idea as nonsense, mocking Bainimarama’s military background and referring to the poor economic status of the Forum’s 14 members, saying Australia and New Zealand’s funding role is critical to the Forum’s agendas. 

The Samoan PM called for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to be moved out of Fiji, and wants that to be an agenda of the forum meeting in September, here in PNG. In a statement two weeks ago, he said:

“If Bainimarama is serious with his plan not to come in he must formally inform the president of the forum, of his government’s intention, through the Secretary General of the Forum and leaders must then decide at the forthcoming meeting in Papua New Guinea to move the Forum Secretariat out of Fiji – that is the issue the leaders must address at its next forum meeting in PNG.” 

Two weeks ago, the Fiji PM labelled Malielegaoi as a ‘lap dog’ and criticised Australia and New Zealand’s leadership and implementation of commitments to climate change. 

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, this year’s forum chair, spoke out on Fiji’s standpoint last November, telling Radio Australia:

“We must make sure that we don’t forget that we all live in the same region and Australia and New Zealand are very much part of that region… But Pacific countries also need to trade with the growing influence in Asia, to deal with India and China as the two biggest economies in that region.”

Bainimarama told the ABC that Australia and New Zealand are not really part of the Pacific, saying Fiji has had to look to countries like China, India and Russia instead. While O’Neill has also agreed Pacific engagement with India and China, he said Pacific nations should not neglect their traditional ties with Australia and New Zealand.

“We need to stay engaged and in line with what we are trying to achieve in terms of making sure our people take advantage of the opportunities that are available to us.”

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