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21st Micronesian Presidents’ Summit Paddles Together for a Stronger Micronesia; Micronesian Unity Further Strengthened Prior to Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Retreat in Nadi
PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On February 13th, 2023, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) hosted the 21st Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS) in Palikir. Operating under the theme “Paddling Together for a Stronger Micronesia”, His Excellency David W. Panuelo welcomed His Excellency Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati, His Excellency Surangel S. Whipps Jr., President of the Republic of Palau, His Excellency Russ Joseph Kun, President of the Republic of Nauru, and the Honorable Kitlang Kabua, Foreign Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, for a series of formal and informal discussions on topics ranging from the implementation of the Suva Agreement—which was also the primary purpose of the meeting—to the current status of the One UN Micronesia House (i.e. the United Nations Multi-Country Office).
In the opening of the MPS, President Panuelo expressed his personal gratitude to President Kun as outgoing Chair of the MPS, and acknowledged Nauru’s key role in advancing the MPS’ agenda. The Presidents of the MPS welcomed the decision by Kiribati to return to the Pacific Islands Forum, and acknowledged with appreciation Kiribati’s reaffirmation that their brotherhood and sisterhood with the MPS was never fractured.
Prior to the convening of the MPS, President Panuelo invited the Honorable Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, to address the MPS. In his public remarks during the opening of the MPS, the Prime Minister stated that “Micronesia has so much to showcase to the region and to the world…[Micronesians are] leaders in Climate and Ocean Advocacy, and collectively you are the largest custodian of our Blue Pacific. This is why your voice is so important in our regional settlements. Excellencies,” the Prime Minister said, “The [Blue Pacific] region and the future of our Forum Family is now in your hands. We are looking to you, all of you, for your leadership.”
The Presidents discussed the terms of the Suva Agreement and unanimously expressed their satisfaction of the critical reforms in the agreement.
President Panuelo, keenly aware of the importance of Micronesian unity and solidarity and how such unity and solidarity would impact the larger Pacific Island Forum Family and Blue Pacific Continent, served as Chair of the meeting, including during the Presidents’ Retreat. During the Retreat, the five MPS Presidents agreed to endorse the candidacy of Nauru to be the next Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum beginning in 2024; endorsed the location of the Pacific Islands Forum sub-regional office for the North Pacific to be in the Republic of Kiribati; endorsed the location of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in Palau; and expressed support for the candidacy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands for the post of Pacific Ocean Commissioner.
When asked to provide a statement, President Panuelo said “Sometimes the route to victory is through humility, and sometimes a perceived loss is the greatest gain imaginable. The MPS has five members, and we had four items of elemental importance to take care of—that is, who gets what, and who hosts what. As Chair of the MPS and as an advocate for Pacific unity, I felt that it was, in part, the FSM’s responsibility to ensure that our collective Micronesian subregion emerges stronger together—for our own sake, as well as the sake of the Pacific at large. As much as our citizens may hear talk of the FSM aligning itself with this major power or that major power in international media reports and political strategy papers, the reality is that, as Pacific Islanders, we stand with the Pacific before we stand with anyone else—and, as Micronesians, we seek consensus and solidarity amongst ourselves first and foremost. That unity and solidarity isn’t simply mere talk; it’s the bedrock of our decision-making process, and essential for our collective security and development as laid out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. The MPS was a victory through humility; and what might be perceived as a loss for the FSM is, in fact, our greatest gain, for we have strengthened our Micronesian subregion, and will further strengthen our Blue Pacific Continent. There is enormous value, for example—for all of us in the FSM and all of us in the Pacific—for our brothers and sisters in Kiribati to walk away from a meeting such as this feeling our Nation’s extension of peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity, and having that peace, that friendship, that cooperation, and that love, become concretized—such as in the form of hosting the subregional office of the Pacific Islands Forum. It will be Kiribati’s first such major international office on their shores. They deserve it, and it makes my heart glad. As Chair, I really want to make sure that my MPS brothers and sisters are happy.”
Citizens of the FSM who may appreciate the President’s leadership with respect to the greater Blue Pacific but find themselves frustrated at the apparent lack of a product for the FSM itself may be heartened to learn that, as it relates to the MPS, the Presidents of the MPS agreed to have the FSM be the host of the permanent MPS Secretariat. “We will strengthen the MPS itself,” President Panuelo said. “A working committee has been mandated to draft the institutional documents that the MPS can endorse and officialize for approval, and as a result we will see the FSM hosting the permanent MPS Secretariat, which shall be headed by a Secretary General.”
In addition to the Suva Agreement, the Presidents also discussed several other matters of importance, either amongst themselves or with an invited partner.
The first of these matters was the MPS receiving Rear Admiral Benjamin Nicholson, Commander of Joint Region Marianas, who provided a security briefing on the region, including the security challenges of Climate Change, Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing activities, and Search & Rescue activities. In this regard, President Panuelo reiterated the FSM’s appreciation to the U.S. Armed Forces at large, with particular appreciation to the U.S. Coast Guard for its assistance in tackling IUU fishing in the FSM and in their assistance in Search & Rescue operations.
The second of these matters was the MPS receiving the Resident Coordinator for the United Nations Multi-Country Office in Micronesia, Mr. Jaap van Hierden. The Resident Coordinator provided a briefing on the building design for the forthcoming One UN Micronesia House, which projects a total of 19 international agencies and over 120 staff joining the offices in the near future.
“Our next step at the FSM-side is to emphasize the importance of resolving any relevant land issues for the One UN Micronesia House soonest,” President Panuelo said. “The proposed building site will be in the Botanical Gardens in Kolonia Town, Pohnpei State. As there is agreement that the One UN Micronesia House will hire regional staff with the understanding that the majority of staff will be from the Micronesian sub-region, it will be very much in our national interest, and Pohnpei State’s interest, to move this forward as expeditiously as possible.”
The third of these matters was the MPS receiving a delegation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The delegation from Saudi Arabia reported their interest in hosting World Expo 2030, and further described their interest in exploring diplomatic and economic relations with the FSM, Nauru, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands (noting that Palau has recently established diplomatic relations and is proactively engaging in economic relations). In this regard, the MPS acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s interest to host the World Expo 2030, and solicited Saudi Arabia’s financial support for the construction of the One UN Micronesia House; the delegation from Saudi Arabia took on board this request, and conveyed to the MPS that they have transmitted the request to their capitol in Riyadh.
The fourth of these matters was the MPS discussing amongst themselves the illegal, brutal, and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. The five Presidents agreed that the rule of law, the international rules-based order, and respect for sovereignty and human rights must prevail—and, as such, the five Presidents called upon the international community to help towards reinstating peace and stability in Ukraine.
“We are quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the brutal, unjustified, and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” President Panuelo said. “The global community should not and cannot ignore this important issue. The assault on Ukraine is an assault on democracy itself, and as the FSM is a democracy, so too do we continue to stand with the People and Government of Ukraine.”
The fifth of these matters was the MPS discussing amongst themselves the value of a visit of U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the Pacific sometime in the near future. “The first U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit in September 2022 was an unambiguous success,” President Panuelo said. “It will be of instrumental importance for the Pacific to ensure the United States continues to re-engage itself, as thoroughly as possible, with our Blue Pacific Continent. I plan to discuss this further at the forthcoming Special Leaders Retreat in Nadi, that I believe it will be in the Pacific’s interest for us to invite President Biden to visit us, in the same manner where we visited him in Washington, DC, last September.”
The remainder of the MPS meeting proper, while not reflective of specific publishable outcomes in a Joint Communique, consisted of several hours of discussion on items of mutual interest, ranging in depth from heavier topics such as each country’s handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic, to the difficulty the Marshall Islands is having in growing Kosraean tangerines on its atolls. The discussions were highly cordial and informal, and analogous to a gathering of brothers and sisters.
The 21st MPS concluded with the agreement that the Republic of Kiribati will host the 22nd Micronesian Presidents’ Summit.
The Presidents of the MPS signed a Joint Communique, which is a public document and available for public consumption here: https://gov.fm/files/Joint%20Communiques/Palikir_Communique_Final.pdf