US-China tensions, Kiribati’s sudden withdrawal casts a shadow over Pacific leaders meeting

SUVA, Fiji (Reuters) – Tensions between China and the United States and the withdrawal of the remote Pacific nation of Kiribati overshadowed the Pacific Islands Forum as leaders arrived in Fiji on Monday for their first in-person summit. in three years.

During the four-day meeting, Pacific island leaders will discuss how to gather more international support and funding to combat the impact of rising sea levels and climate change, as well as China’s ambitions for greater security ties across the region.

Beijing’s bid to sign a broader regional trade and security pact with 10 countries that recognize China, but is opposed by some forum members, is also to be discussed. Read more

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Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofi said in an interview that he was saddened by the news of Kiribati’s withdrawal and that Pacific leaders would need to “consider the concerns raised by Kiribati” when they meet this week.

Kiribati President Tanetti Mamau said in a letter that his country will withdraw from the forum because it does not agree with Secretary-General Henri Bona’s continuation in the post, nor on other terms of an agreement reached weeks ago to resolve the dispute between the Micronesian countries and other members. . Kiribati also wanted to postpone the meeting.

Pacific leaders also discuss fisheries — tuna is a major source of revenue in the region — but the issue also risks getting bogged down in geopolitical tensions, Coffey said.

China operates a large fishing fleet in the Pacific Ocean and is seeking greater access to one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

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The Quartet of the United States, Japan, Australia and India has offered to increase surveillance of the Pacific islands to stop illegal fishing in exclusive economic zones.

“This geopolitical competition will continue and it is important for the Pacific to focus on issues critical to the Pacific – climate change and the preservation of our resources,” Covey said.

He said the US wanted to expand the Pacific Fishing Treaty to include “other security issues,” and that would be discussed at the forum.

A major retreat for forum leaders will be held on Thursday. China proposed a video meeting between the International Bureau of the Communist Party of China and 10 islands in the Pacific Ocean on the same day.

Tuvalu is among four Pacific countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not Beijing.

Kofi withdrew from the recent UN conference on the ocean in Lisbon after China banned the attendance of Taiwanese members of the Tuvalu delegation. He said these were “bullying tactics” on the part of China. Read more

However, Coffey said Tuvalu does not want the differences between China and Taiwan to distract the Pacific islands from what unites all countries in the region this week.

“Maintaining the unity and solidarity of the Pacific family is critical to us so that we can deal with many of these issues that we face,” he said.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Editing by Stephen Coates and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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