New Delhi, February 25, 2021
The appointment of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has created ripples in the complex geopolitics of the Pacific Islands which is already adding mystique to those viewing from a distance.
The Pacific Islands region is dominated by the ever-increasing one up among the countries constituting Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. The appointment of Secretary-General has added to the complexity.
Selection by rotation
The selection of the PIF Secretary-General is based on consensus and by longstanding agreement, the three sub-regions (Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia) take turns in fielding a candidate. In terms of a ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement,’ the role was by rotation and the turn this year was that of Micronesia.
Mr Puna won the election by a single vote.
In the history of the Agreement for sub-regional rotation, Micronesia has produced only one Secretary General, compared to Polynesia’s seven, Melanesia’s three, and Australia’s two.
The stake of Pacific Islands will increase, as Samoa, Cook Islands and Fiji are all set to have elections in the near future. In that context, locally. there will be pressure within the countries to raise the stakes in the PIF.
Apart from the issue of Secretary-General, the Pacific Islands will witness increased competition on subregional multilateral forums such as the Polynesian Spearhead Group and the Melanesian Spearhead Group, each trying to raise its stake in regional leadership.
Outside powers such as India and China will also vie for a better status in the PIF.
Australia and New Zealand are weary of the increasing Chinese presence in the Pacific Islands ad hence may join hands with the United States, India and France to check that advance.
The ensuing Pacific Islands Summit in August 2021 will have many things to sort out.
Fiji is set to host the Forum will seek to raise its status among the member-countries.
Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has invited the newly elected United States President Joe Biden to the Forum and it is to be seen as to howe the geopolitics will shape up in the months and years to come.
Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi.