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President Panuelo Questions FSM Remaining in the Pacific Island Forum if the Micronesia Subregion Not Given Fair Opportunity to Lead
PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On October 2nd, 2020, His Excellency David W. Panuelo—President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)—virtually joined His Excellency Thomas E. Remengesau Jr., President of the Republic of Palau, His Excellency David Kabua, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, His Excellency Lionel Aingimea, President of the Republic of Nauru, and His Excellency Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati, for the Special Meeting of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit. This release will cover some of the highlights from the Joint Communique, but will primarily focus on the Micronesian subregion’s unified effort to ensure that the rightful candidate to the position of Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), His Excellency Gerald Zackios, is upheld per the PIF’s Gentleman’s Agreement of rotating leadership on a regional basis.
Citizens unfamiliar with the politics of the PIF may appreciate the following summary. Analogous to the European Union or the African Union, while the MPS is the subregional gathering of Micronesian Presidents, the PIF is the regional entity representing the Pacific Island regions of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, and historically has been used to promote regional solidarity to include emphasizing the Pacific’s stance on issues of import at the United Nations. PIF Leaders agreed that the Secretary-General position shall be determined on a rotational basis, yet the last five Secretary-Generals have served from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Samoa, Tuvalu (in an acting capacity), and Papua New Guinea once more, with Micronesia being in the role only once. Per the Gentleman’s Agreement of rotational leadership, it is the Micronesian subregion’s turn, and the MPS submitted their candidate to the PIF in September 2019. The Micronesian candidate is H.E. Gerald Zackios, contemporary Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United States of America, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Micronesian Presidents broadly rejected the submission of candidates submitted past the formal deadline, and view the aspiration of any other nominee as one in a series of slights against the Micronesian subregion, such as the Micronesian subregion’s shock and confusion in August 2019 when the only CROP Agency in the North Pacific, the Pacific Island Development Program/East-West Center, which the Micronesian subregion broadly endorses, and which the FSM specifically views as essential to its development, was threatened to lose its status as a CROP Agency.
“It would be awful if our unity doesn’t materialize into the successful bid for Gerald Zackios,” President Panuelo said at the Leaders Retreat. “Ambassador Zackios is the proper choice per our Gentleman’s Agreement for sub-regional rotation. Our solidarity and integrity in the PIF are strengthened by this agreement, and to me this issue is non-negotiable. I don’t want this to lead to fragmentation of our PIF, but it might do that. The Micronesian subregion is as much a part of the Pacific as Polynesia or Melanesia, and if they are unable to adhere to the Pacific Way of respect for others, including respect for our Gentleman’s Agreement, then the consequence is that we simply don’t engage with them or allow ourselves to be pushed around by people with ulterior motives in the PIF Secretariat. If this agreement is not honored, I see no benefit to remaining in the PIF.”
The language in the Joint Communique reads as: “Presidents discussed the selection process and appointment of the next PIF Secretary-General and reiterated their firm commitment to the appointment of Micronesia’s candidate, Ambassador Gerald M. Zackios, in line with the Gentlemen’s Agreement for sub-regional rotation. Presidents agreed that the solidarity and integrity of the PIF is strengthened by the Gentleman’s Agreement, that this issue is one of respect and Pacific Unity, and that it is non-negotiable for Member States. Presidents agreed that in the Pacific Way, a Gentleman’s Agreement is an agreement, and if this agreement is not honored, then the Presidents would see no benefit to remaining in the PIF.”
Amongst the other topics discussed were with regards to regional shipping and airline services, the COVID-19 Pandemic and response thereof, and tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, among others. Presidents enthusiastically agreed that the current member states of the Micronesian Shipping Commission (MSC), the FSM, Palau, and Marshall Islands, will extend an invitation to Nauru and Kiribati. President Panuelo advised that he has approved the extraction of the Sea Dragon aerial surveillance vehicle and is working with partners to see the issue swiftly resolved.