Leaders from across the Pacific region will unite in Suva, Fiji, this week for the Pacific Islands Forum, with talks anticipated to focus squarely on three key issues: China’s growing influence in the region, emerging from the post-COVID-19 era, and climate change. 

Below, we explain exactly what the forum is — and why it was first established — before unpacking why tensions among member states are particularly high and what outcomes are expected as the week unfolds. 

Read on to find out more, including how you can help ensure the region can prosper and be free of extreme poverty moving forward.

How and Why Did the Pacific Islands Forum Begin?

The forum was established in 1971 as a way to enhance the cooperation of countries throughout the Pacific, many of which had just recently become independent from British, French, or German rule. The forum is now the region’s most significant political and economic policy organization, with all members committed to striving for a region of “peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity.”

"The Pacific Islands Forum was built on the principle of self-determination and as a careful attempt to define structures that would maximise Pacific Island state control of their relationship with larger powers in trade, security and colonial policies,” development analysis platform, the Devpolicy Blog explains.

Member nations currently include 15 smaller Pacific Island countries, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Twenty-one countries, including Canada, France, Italy, India, China, Spain, and Japan are considered “dialogue partners.”

Why Is This Year’s Forum So Consequential?

This year’s forum is significant beyond just the fact that it will be held in person for the first time since 2019.

The summit is occurring during a particularly heightened time for the region, just months after Beijing secured an array of new bilateral agreements — including a security pact with the Solomon Islands — during a sweeping tour of the region. 

China’s recent efforts to become a larger presence through new economic and political relationships have been seen by many as a battle for control against other major players in the region, like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. 

The opinions of those in the region to China’s push for influence have varied widely.

Similarly momentous this year is Kiribati's recent, devastating withdrawal from the forum.

Taneti Maamau, the president of Kiribati, said the nation was leaving, in part, due to the selection of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna — a Polynesian man — as the forum’s secretary-general. The selection process breached a former agreement that promised a Micronesian candidate would hold the position this year, Maamau said.

Current Micronesian members include Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Nauru. 

Nauru and the Marshall Islands, however, will also not attend this year due to COVID-19 and legal issues, respectively.

What Is Expected to Be Announced in 2022?

Top of the agenda is the 2050 Blue Pacific Continent strategy, which is expected to spell out a three-decade-long plan for addressing topics like climate change, peace and security, political leadership, economic development, connectivity, and ocean health.

"The 2050 Strategy is our north star,” Zarak Khan, the forum’s Secretariat’s Director of Programmes and Initiatives, told Al Jazeera. “It’s about securing our region’s prospects, people, and place. It’s also about investing in scientific research, information technology, e-commerce, and education to realize the potential of our young population. We’ll do this by harnessing sustainable finance to build a knowledge economy to complement the blue economy.”

It’s also important to note what won’t be announced this year. 

Nothing will come from the forum’s annual dialogue partners meeting, because, for the first time, dialogue partners like the United States, China, and the United Kingdom will not meet with forum members — a move made to allow Pacific leaders to focus on Pacific issues without outside input.

Interestingly, US Vice President Kamila Harris is still expected to speak with Pacific leaders Wednesday.

How You Can Take Action to Help

This year, Global Citizen has launched our “End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can’t Wait” campaign, which urges leaders worldwide to take action in three major categories: breaking systemic barriers, taking climate action, and empowering girls.

As part of the campaign, we are urging major Pacific donor countries, like Australia, to step up by increasing the amount of money spent on alleviating poverty in the region. Global Citizen is also campaigning for Australia to make bold new commitments to reduce emissions by 2030 and increase climate financing. 

You can help make the Pacific a more prosperous, open, and healthy region by calling on Australia to prioritize the health, climate, and humanitarian needs of its northern and eastern neighbors. You can also take action to save the world we love by signing Global Citizen’s petition now.

Global Citizen Explains

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Pacific Islands Forum: What Is It and What’s on the Agenda This Year

By Madeleine Keck