Asia Minute: Split in the Pacific Islands Forum

Feb 16, 2021

An influential grouping of Pacific Islands is facing a crisis. The Pacific Islands Forum suffered a split last week, and its future is uncertain.

A disagreement over leadership is threatening the future of the Pacific Islands Forum — a loose organization of 18 members founded in 1971.

The group’s website says it is brought together by a “common sense of identity and purpose” — having worked together on shared challenges including climate change and ocean conservation. The Forum includes two larger countries: Australia and New Zealand; as well as three regional groupings: Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.

Traditionally, the leadership of the group rotates among the three regions. And this year, Micronesian countries felt it was their turn.

But by a vote of nine to eight, the position of general secretary went to the former prime minister of the Cook Islands — a Polynesian country.

He edged out a candidate from the Marshall Islands — part of the Micronesian bloc of the northern Pacific — along with the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru and Palau.

The Micronesians have previously expressed frustration — feeling they are overlooked within the Forum because their populations and their economies are smaller than those of the other blocs.

After the election, Palau pulled out of the forum, and the other Micronesian countries announced their intentions to leave.

But there’s still a chance for reconciliation, several countries have indicated their complete withdrawal from the Forum will take a year.