The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leadership rift yesterday widened as the Marshall Islands voiced its disapproval with the central political body in a region where the US and China are competing for influence.
Palau has already announced that it is pulling out of the organization and is today to meet the Marshall Islands and other Micronesian members of the forum to discuss what has been described as “a huge fracture” in regional unity.
The row erupted on Thursday, when the Micronesian candidate to be the organization’s next secretary-general was rejected in favor of former Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna, after a virtual meeting of leaders from the 18-member body.
The five Micronesian states — the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau — had said that it was their turn to fill the post under an informal arrangement that has stood for decades.
“We need to reassess our relationship with the PIF. They ignored the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and we can’t take it any longer,” Marshall Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Casten Nemra said.
The forum is made up mostly of small Pacific island states, as well as Australia and New Zealand, and is a key element of the US allies’ diplomatic efforts in the region.
However, any division in the forum’s ranks could provide an opening for China to boost its influence.
“What we have seen is a south Pacific that looks down on the north Pacific, and we find that deeply unfortunate,” Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo told Australian radio in the wake of the leadership vote.
“It’s a huge fracture in the [forum’s] unity and spirit of cooperation,” Panuelo added.
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