Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders, after four days of talks, depicted a united front as they launched a new strategy for regional togetherness and a joined-up approach to the climate crisis, security and governance.
But on the stage where leaders watched performances about Pasifika unity, a single chair – saved for the Kiribati Prime Minister Taneti Maamau – sat empty.
Speaking at the end of the summit in Fiji, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said leaders were had a “unity of voice”. It came after the forum launched the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific – the region’s plan for the next three decades – and released a communique outlining key decisions.
“You can see in the communique the language around regionalism, so that’s the idea of us working together in a collective way and around that notion of peace and stability and family first,” she said.
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It was a unity which meant some issues would be dealt with later, including the Melanesian nation’s withdrawal on the eve of the forum, action on the climate crisis and transparency about the security deal between Solomon Islands and Beijing.
Ardern said climate was a big focus of talks, with money and implementation plans to follow the strategy launch. But Australia’s commitment to coal, a major sticking point during talks during the last face-to-face talks in 2019, wasn’t prosecuted.
The US’s major push into the Pacific, announced by Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday with new embassies for Kiribati and Tonga, as well as more than $900,000 in funding as it tries to counter China’s increasing presence in the region,
Speaking after the talks, Fijian Prime Minister and forum chairperson Frank Bainimarama said high-emitting nations, including Australia, New Zealand and China, needed to “end their fossil fuel addiction”.
Rising sea levels are threatening life itself in the Pacific. Tuvalu is wondering how it can still be a nation when it is running out of landmass.
“We need to reduce emissions in line with the Paris agreements. That requires that we half global emissions by 2030,” he said.
Bainimarama said he was “making progress” on Kiribati, but reports have linked its departure to shadowy Chinese influence. Maamau was reported to be avoiding calls from fellow leaders during the forum, but spoke to Bainimarama on Thursday afternoon.
“I have wished him and his people a wonderful national day and reaffirmed with him.. we would continue to dialogue with Kiribati…we will spare no efforts in this regard.”
Ardern said Maamau could still sign the Suva agreement, a document which seeks to heal the splintering of the Pacific regional family. It had been signed by 17 of the nations, a grouping which sat at 18 before Kiribati’s withdrawal.
Leaders also welcomed Australia’s interest in hosting the next United Nations climate summit.