Pacific Islands Appoint Former Leader of Nauru as Next Secretary-General

Pacific Islands Appoint Former Leader of Nauru as Next Secretary-General
Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, on Sept. 20, 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Aldgra Fredly

Leaders from the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) have appointed former Nauru President Baron Waqa to chair the Pacific's top regional body next year as they move toward regional unity.

The leaders met in Fiji on Friday to finalize a deal that will see the return of Kiribati to the forum. Fiji's leader and outgoing PIF chair Sitiveni Rabuka said the Suva Agreement proves the bloc's commitment to unity.

"I'm very pleased that the solidarity of the forum family has been fully restored," Rabuka was quoted as saying by Pacific News Service.

"To that end, I can confirm that President of Kiribati Taneti Mamu has signed the Suva Agreement," he added.

Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Nauru moved to withdraw from the PIF in 2021 after they accused the forum of breaking "the gentlemen's agreement" to rotate the secretary-general role among member countries.

An agreement was struck last year to resolve the impasse, but Kiribati President Taneti Maamau disagreed with the terms and refused to sign the accord. Maamau subsequently agreed to rejoin after Rabuka visited Kiribati in January and delivered an apology.

Under the Suva Agreement, Waqa will assume the role of PIF secretary-general in 2024 and two sub-regional offices of PIF and Pacific Commissioner will be established in Kiribati and Palau.

Rabuka said that New Zealand and Australia offered $3 million for the implementation of the Suva Agreement. The meeting also marked the formal transfer of the PIF leadership from Fiji to the Cook Islands.

Nauru has diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and Waqa has previously clashed with Chinese diplomats. Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu also recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation.

During his presidency in 2018, Waqa criticized China’s envoy to the forum as “very insolent” and a “bully” for speaking out of turn after an angry exchange at the opening of the PIF meeting.

Last year, Beijing signed multiple agreements with some Pacific Island nations, such as Samoa and the Solomon Islands, but it failed to have the region’s nations sign a sweeping security and economic deal owing to a lack of consensus among Pacific Island leaders.

US–Micronesia Pact

Meanwhile, the United States and Micronesia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Feb. 10 reaffirming their close ties, a pact considered crucial to U.S. efforts to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific.

The U.S. State Department said the MOU reflected a “shared understanding reached on levels and types of future U.S. assistance to be requested for the Federated States of Micronesia.”

“The memorandum of understanding was signed as part of the ongoing Compact of Free Association negotiations and confirms our shared vision for a strong and enduring partnership that will continue to benefit both nations and the entire Pacific region,” the department stated.

Micronesia President David Panuelo said on Jan. 13 that he anticipated a rise in U.S. military drills near Micronesia’s territory in the coming years amid “the geopolitical atmosphere in the Pacific.”

“Of paramount importance is that our nation’s citizenry be informed in advance when U.S. fighter jets fly over the State of Yap, for example, or when the U.S. practice firing anti-aircraft missiles from the ground,” Panuelo said in his national address.

“These exercises will be increasing in frequency over the next several years, and while they are ultimately in our national interest and in the interest of our Nation’s security—of which the U.S. is our indisputable guardian—it is important that our citizens know about them well in advance so that our people do not see these activities and then immediately fear the worst.”

Reuters contributed to this report.