Pacific | Pacific Islands Forum

LIVE from the Pacific Forum: ‘Take the Pacific seriously’

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni’s encouragement to incoming government.

In the final media stand-up before departing Rarotonga, the caretaker Deputy Prime Minister said she hoped a National-led government keeps the Pacific front of mind.

“I want the incoming government to continue to strengthen the relationships with the Pacific, to take it seriously, to make sure that we’re at the table with our Pacific neighbours.

“And to take the collaborative approach that we have been taking.”

A credible source from inside the plenary session said New Zealand had kept quiet during the main discussions.

Sepuloni said it was about ensuring the Pacific voice was heard.

“For me, it’s really important that I speak when it’s necessary. Yesterday, the recommendations that had been drafted and we actually agreed there was nothing that I thought was contentious.”

“There are a lot of voices that needed to be heard in the room. I think it’s really important that sometimes New Zealand and Australia step back and let our smaller Pacific Islands have their say.”

Sepuloni says that it was a different case at the leaders retreat and she was very involved in the talks.

The delegation is due to land back in Wellington at midnight tonight.

10/11/2023 - All but one aboard

While most Pacific leaders are on one vaka, Nauru departed on another.

Nauru President David Adeang flew out of Rarotonga this morning (November 10 LT), almost 24 hours after walking out of the plenary meeting, a reliable source told RNZ Pacific.

Meanwhile, from the shores of O’otu Beach in Aitutaki, PIF leaders journeyed to One Foot Island.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. says the situation was a misunderstanding and they will work it out.

“They’re not here, they have their reasons and it’s good to get it directly from them … they said ‘you represent us’, so we’re here as Micronesia.”

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says Nauru should have stayed and it “sort of” feels as though the forum is back at square one with keeping Micronesia in the fold.

“He has not been nominated. Once it comes up we will vote. I do not know Baron Waqa.”

When asked if Rabuka would be pushing for a zone of peace for the Pacific he responded, “Yes. Yep. I’ve got a good supporter, Prime Minister Albanese,” confident he’s got Australia’s backing.

Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi was asked about supporting a regional regulatory deep sea mining framework but he replied the processes and the resources need more understanding.

“I think it comes down to how you see the importance of it. One thing can be (economically) driven and one more so a product that can support the transition of fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

Papua New Guida Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso says the issues surrounding Baron Waqa are not an issue.

“I don’t know to be honest. I think it’s more to do with the Polynesian bloc maybe? We from the Melanesian block haven’t really heard anything about that.”

Rosso says he’s had a number of bilateral meetings over the past couple of days, but couldn’t recall who they were with.

He is, however, looking forward to his discussions with France, “They lean towards our environmental conservation plans, nature swamps and helping us with (the) conservation of our forests.

10/11/2023 - Bilateral meetings, a protest, and kapa haka

What’s beyond the forum discussions?

Tamariki haka

A taste of home for Kiwis today as a special kapa haka performance was held at the Punanga Nui Market Pavillion as part of Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity.

The group rolled out a few classic Māori waiata including, Tū tira mai, Pōkarekare ana, and the anthem adopted by political party Te Pāti Māori, You’re Magic.

Representing New Zeaand’s incoming government, senior National MP Gerry Brownlee was in the front-row seat for the show.

The ‘Caramel Brownie’ duo has parted.

National MP Gerry Brownlee stays in Rarotonga for bilateral meetings today while caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni is in Aitutaki.

Sepuloni is attending the leaders’ retreat to discuss the forum’s agenda in depth.

“We’ll have a conversation around climate change and climate financing … Regional stability will undoubtedly come up. Relationships and unity will be discussed.

“But beyond that, it’s very difficult to share what’s on the agenda because I don’t think it’s been made public yet,” she says.

The meeting will take place onboard a vaka, which incumbent Secretary General Henry Puna says is a perfect setting.

“I think what’s beautiful about this, is to showcase the beauty of Aitutaki Lagoon and what the ocean really means to us - because one of the important issues to be discussed is the ocean, and what better place to talk about it than in the ocean itself.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day. Everybody’s in good spirits, and being in Aitutaki, as one leader remarked ‘This place is different from Rarotonga, so relaxing’, and that’s exactly the frame of mind we want them to be in when discussing the important issues today.”

Meanwhile, Brownlee is holding meetings in Rarotonga with representatives from non-Pacific countries, including Cuba, Portugal, France, and Korea.

Brownlee says his discussions with Portugal centre on the nation lobbying for a spot on the UN Security Council.

Additionally, he has bilateral discussions planned with the United States and the United Kingdom, aiming to understand their intentions in the Pacific.

Brownlee acknowledged the growing interest and influence of these superpowers in the region.

The pair will get together again just before their flight back to Aotearoa tonight.

A protest for peace

A small group of people stood quietly in front of the National Auditorium calling for an end to the killing of displaced Palestinians.

Holding a sign that urged Pacific leaders to push for world peace.

9/11/2023 - Nauru absent in Aitutaki

Could this be an indication that cracks are showing between the forum partners?

RNZ and local media on the atoll report “no sign” of Nauru representation following the delegation’s walk-out of the leaders meeting.

As leaders disembarked in Aitutaki, eyes were peeled to see if Nauru was among the pack.

Every leader was called and gifted a pate (drum) or pareu but one name was noticeably missing - Nauru President David Adeang.

With questions rising about whether this was a staged exit, it does show a chink in the armour of ‘solidarity’ and ‘unity’ the forum has cited.

Sources told our team that the Nauru delegation is looking for early flights out of Rarotonga tomorrow (November 10 NZT).

Tensions build - Nauru walks out of PIF meeting

It is understood that Nauru president David Adeang left after leaders looked to discuss the appointment of incoming Secretary-general Baron Waqa.

Waqa, who was the former President of Nauru, has faced waves of criticism due to his controversial actions while in office.

Various reports from media in Rarotonga say the Nauru delegation left the main plenary meeting after another leader asked to push talks about Waqa’s nomination to the leaders’ retreat in Aitutaki.

It was apparently Samoa Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa who raised concerns over the process of Waqa’s candidacy and wanted the topic to be talked about at the more private discussions.

Waqa’s selection for the top diplomatic role had been endorsed by the Micronesia Presidents Summit and agreed to in a special meeting in February this year.

Both the Forum chair Mark Brown and secretary-general Henry Puna reportedly requested Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to intervene if necessary and bring Nauru back to the discussion table.

Leaders’ responses

Labour’s deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni says she’s uncertain a walk-out actually happen]ned.

“I’m not even entirely sure that there was a walk-out because leaders are coming in and out during the forum so I’m not entirely sure that that is the case.”

“It’s just from what I’ve seen online.”

Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku echoed Sepuloni’s comments.

“No, I didn’t know…people go in and out all the time.”

Fiamē Mata’afa was approached but politely refused to give an initial comment - hinting she may talk to media tomorrow.

Either the “storm out” went unnoticed among the rest of the Forum partners or the Pacific leaders are keeping tight-lipped and to a script.

9/11/2023 - The way forward is ‘solidarity’

Forum Secretary General Henry Puna encourages leaders to stay focused on achieving the Pacific agenda.

Drumming a specific beat for when elders’ meetings are called, Forum chair Mark Brown addressed his congregation and reiterated the message of “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Voices.”

“Yes, the geo-strategic interest in the region may be at an all-time high but it should not detract from our action plan … a Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity.

“That ensures all our peoples lead free, healthy, and productive lives.”

Forum partners dressed in green pareu and mu’umu’u symbolising the atolls of Kūki ‘Airani, marking the start of the forum’s plenary session.

Secretary-general Henry Puna said the 2050 strategy framed how the Blue Pacific Continent was moving forward.

“There are a multitude of opportunities and complexities before us as a region. But the key to capitalising on these opportunities and overcoming shared complexities is our solidarity as a region.

“The 2050 implementation plan articulates our collective actions for the next seven years and I am pleased that the forum chair has taken it upon himself to identify key actions under the Pacific partnerships for prosperity to drive at the political level.”

8/11/2023 - NZ’s first bilateral meeting with Cook Islands PM

‘The two MPs, jointly dubbed the ‘Caramel Brownie’ discussed security, climate financing, and infrastructure funding and confirmed that “Pacific unity is strong”.’

In an unusual arrangement where opposing political party MPs sat together in bilateral discussions with a country leader, Labour’s deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni said they were all on the “same waka” gifting Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown a waka paddle - signifying the partnership.

Describing the meeting as being “warm and hospitable”, both Sepuloni and senior National MP Gerry Brownlee were confident about the strength of the constitutional relationship with the Cook Islands.

Sepuloni said the forum looked to be a productive one “regarding the discussions around climate change…stability and security in the Pacific.

“The PM has already had an opportunity to meet with most of the Pacific leaders. He expressed to us that there certainly is a good feeling among the leaders.”

She also said they looked at seabed nodules with an extensive explanation from PM Mark Brown about the extraction of the resource.

What wasn’t discussed was the revitalisation of the Rarotonga Treaty, the Palestine-Israel conflict. Nor was the controversial issue raised around former Nauru president Baron Waqa’s appointment as secretary-general.

Sepuloni said she had had no indication the subject would be revisited.

“What we anticipate is that everyone will collectively get around this secretary-general to ensure he is able to work constructively and to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities of the role and so Aotearoa New Zealand and the rest of the Pacific will look to put that support in place.”

The rising geopolitical issues have divided the Pacific and large superpowers were making more moves in the region - Brown said this was being embraced.

Sepuloni agreed the Pacific would always be unified.

“Just because we disagree on some things doesn’t mean we’re not unified. The fact that Micronesia, especially Kiribati, is back in the fold … that is very important. We want to make sure that that remains the case. We are going to be strong if we are unified and that means everyone has to be at the table.”

Day two of NZ’s agenda will see a plenary session chaired by Mark Brown, Sepuloni heading to Aitutaki for the leaders’ retreat, and Brownlee having bilateral meetings of his own with Cuba and France.

8/11/2023 New Zealand departs for the Pacific Islands Forum

How strong is New Zealand’s influence in the region? National’s Gerry Brownlee and Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni head to the biggest Pacific Islands Leaders meeting to find out.

The two main political parties will collaborate to represent Aotearoa in Rarotonga.

Caretaker-Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni attends the 52nd Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) as the primary representative accompanied by senior National MP Gerry Brownlee from the incoming government.

Sepuloni said she was pleased to lead the delegation and to have the opportunity to reaffirm existing regional relationships.

“Regardless of who is in government, Aotearoa New Zealand’s relationship with our Pacific whānau is long-standing and vital.”

With a group of approximately 15 officials in tow, the New Zealand delegation departed from the RNZAF Air Movements Rongotai in Wellington.

National’s representative Gerry Brownlee said while the incoming government didn’t have any Pacific people in its governing body he was confident of its commitment to Pacific outcomes.

“Let’s not forget it was a National prime minister at the time who collaborated with the Australian prime minister to establish the Pacific Islands Forum. Our commitment to that is unquestioned and unwavering.”

A new name

Is this a sign of a good working relationship? Brownlee and Sepuloni agreed they were at the forum to represent “New Zealand Inc.”

The duo has been dubbed the “Caramel Brownie” who won’t be seen “scrapping” during their time in Rarotonga.

The contingent isn’t quite late to the party but New Zealand is the last nation in the South Pacific to arrive alongside Australia which sends a squad of 70 people.

A drumming welcome

Monday evening local time saw the Cook Islands host the official welcoming ceremony with national anthems sung by local star Tara Kauvai-Mustonen.

Cook Islands Prime Minister and forum chair Mark Brown extended a warm ‘Kia Orana’ to his guests and said he hoped the prestigious event built on the strong Pacific bond.

“Amid a rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, it’s more important than ever that our Pacific leaders chart our own course toward a legacy of prosperity, sustainability, and unity.

“The (PIFLM52) is not just an event, it is a milestone and our collective journey as stewards of our Blue Pacific Continent.”

Under the theme Our voices, Our choices, Our Pacific way: Promote, Partner, Prosper, the forum is expected to host about 600 global delegates to discuss ways of achieving important issues on the agenda.

Major topics including climate change, infrastructural development, ocean conservation, and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, as well as economic resilience, are all vital issues impacting sustainable living in the region.

Expected talking points that may also come up are the Pacific nations that voted against a UN resolution to ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, regional security and cyber-safety, and rising geopolitical competition between China, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Shaky start

A contentious matter is the appointment of ex-Nauru President Baron Waqa as the Forum’s next secretary-general.

Waqa told media in the Cook Islands he was “excited” about his candidacy.

“We need to get everyone together. Reunited and refocused again.”

Waqa has had a raft of controversies tainting his political career such as his poor treatment of refugees and the legal system plus accusations that he received bribes in a case that is still open.

Despite his reputation, Sepuloni said they backed the decision of the current title holder, Henry Puna.

“I think it’s going to be important that we all get behind the secretary-general and as a region and collective of nations. We support the forum to be effective and constructive in supporting the secretary-general in his role”

By the convention of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, the high-level diplomatic position rotates through the three major sub-regions: Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia.

The last election was supposed to have Micronesian candidate Marshall Islands ambassador to the US, Gerald Zackios. The forum’s choice of Henry Puna was in defiance of that agreement, and threatened the forum’s existence when some nations said they would pull out.

Waqa’s selection is among a set of measures attempting to repair the bruised relationship and he’s set to assume the role in 2024.

By the convention of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, the high-level diplomatic position rotates through the three major sub-regions: Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia.

The last election was supposed to have Micronesian candidate Marshall Islands Ambassador to the US, Gerald Zackios. Still, the voting of the incumbent Secretary General Henry Puna was in defiance of that agreement, threatening the regional body’s existence.

In Partnership with Pacific Media Network