Transport and trade were the focus of the 20th Micronesia Presidents’ Summit, hosted by Nauru, this week. The summit comes after all five nations declared they would withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2021.

Micronesia’s leaders were resolute in their decision to leave the secretariat at the three-day summit, which wrapped up Thursday. They also discussed Micronesian transport networks, Covid-19 procedures and vaccinations, climate concerns and their preparations for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November.

Nauru President Lional Aingimea urged his fellow leaders to focus on sustainable transport and trade in light of the pandemic. The nations were facing challenges with climate change and food security, transportation costs, geo-political problems, and security issues, all complicated by the pandemic, Aingimea said.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea welcomed the four presidents of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau; Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo; Republic of the Marshall Islands, David Kabua; and Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr.
Nauru President Lionel Aingimea hosted the four Micronesian presidents, Surangel Whipps Jr. of Palau, David Kabua of Republic of the Marshall Islands, Taneti Maamau of Kiribati, and David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia. Courtesy: Office of the President, Republic of Palau

“Against this backdrop, we as leaders are duty-bound to navigate our island nations towards a path of resilience and sustainability for future generations,” Aingimea said in a statement. “The journey towards reaching our sub-regional goals and achievements can only be done in unity and through solidarity.”

Republic of the Marshall Islands President David Kabua reiterated the importance of climate change, and the necessity of a collective Micronesian effort to address “the single greatest threat of our time.”

Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru have all indicated their intention to leave the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat after expressing their dissatisfaction with behavior within the regional assembly.

“The denunciation of our membership to the Pacific Islands Forum was not an easy undertaking, nevertheless, our commitment throughout has signified the high priority and urgent attention we had in our resolve for an equitable premier institution,” said Kabua.

The Micronesian nations accounted for one third of PIFS’ membership, although the recent election of a Cook Islands Secretary General led to the intended exit. In a gentlemen’s agreement, the elected secretary general would be circulated between Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia throughout the election cycle.

The Micronesian countries expected one of their own to be elected but Marshall Islands diplomat Gerald Zackios lost 9-8 to former Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna. Just one Micronesian representative has acted as secretary general since PIFS began in 1980 (under the name South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation).

The five leaders said there was “no value in participating in an organization that does not respect established agreements, including the gentlemen’s agreement on sub-regional rotation,” according to a communique earlier this year. The leaders also committed to strengthening their sub-regional cooperation through institutions, such as the leaders summit.

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