Samoa
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Samoa’s Prime Minister in Fiji for the Pacific Forum Leaders Special Retreat

By Staff Reporters

APIA, SAMOA – 23 FEBRUARY 2023: Samoan Prime Minister, Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa has arrived in Fiji for the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat.

Fiamē was accorded a guard of honour and received by the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Lynda Tabuya at the Nadi International airport yesterday morning.

The Leaders are meeting at a time when Kiribati said it would rejoin the premium diplomatic grouping of Pacific Island countries following an unprecedented rift that questioned the relevance of the Pacific Islands Forum and escalating geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China in the region.

Fiji guard of honour2
Fiji guard of honour2

Samoa’s Prime Minister was accorded a guard of honour on arrival at Nadi Airport.

Australia and New Zealand have also reset their diplomatic and economic strategies for the island countries amidst a gradual move by the Island governments to align with China’s offerings that potentially upset security in the region.

The Kiribati Government withdrew from the regional forum in mid-2022 over the appointment of the organization’s Secretary General that Kiribati and four other Micronesian nations expected to be their turn after twenty years.

However, the relations seem to have been on the mend after Fiji’s recently-elected Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, who is also the Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, visited Kiribati last month in an effort to mend relations.

The office of Kiribati’s president, Taneti Maamau, said that “Kiribati has formally reinstated its positive endorsement to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum this year.”

Rabuka with Kiribati President
Rabuka with Kiribati President

Kiribati President Taneti Maamau (center, right) and Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka (center, left) look on during a ceremony for Rabuka’s official visit to Kiribati in Tarawa, Kiribati on 20 January 2023.

“During the state visit, the Prime Minister [of Fiji] also formally delivered an apology by showcasing the traditional Fijian ceremony seeking forgiveness,” it said.

The Pacific Islands Forum, which comprises 16 island nations as well as Australia and New Zealand, doesn’t have any political or regulatory powers. It holds leaders’ meetings and also provides a way for the region to present a united voice on issues such as climate change.

The Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, the Marshall Islands and Palau also had threatened to leave the forum after a February 2021 meeting elected a Polynesian candidate, former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, as Secretary General instead of a Micronesian candidate. Only Kiribati acted on the threat.