Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands leaders to skip Pacific Islands Forum

WhatsApp Image 2023 11 06 at 20.52.10

The absence of the leaders from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands at this week’s annual Pacific Islands Forum poses a challenge for regional unity, particularly in light of the ongoing competition for influence between China and the United States in the area.

Instead of the heads of state, the Melanesian nations — being courted by both China and the U.S. for security and economic partnerships in the strategic South Pacific — will be represented by ministers at the 18-member bloc meeting that started in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso will represent Papua New Guinea, while the reason for Prime Minister James Marape’s absence was not clarified by the officials. Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai will send Climate Change Minister Ralph Regenvanu in his place. Regenvanu mentioned that their focus at the meeting will be on strengthening regionalism, without elaborating on Salwai’s reasons for not attending. Vanuatu, with China as its largest external creditor, has experienced political instability with Salwai being the third prime minister since August. Solomon Islands’ delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is preoccupied with responsibilities for the Pacific Games, as the country is hosting the games this month.

The Pacific Islands Forum includes nations from three sub-regions of Oceania – Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia – along with Australia and New Zealand. Both the United States and China are actively seeking to extend their influence in the region. The U.S. recently pledged to build more undersea telecommunication cables, while China formed a security pact with the Solomon Islands and attempted to secure a trade and security deal with 10 Forum members, causing concerns, especially for Australia, the region’s largest aid donor. Papua New Guinea formed a defence agreement with the United States earlier in May, while also seeking to strengthen economic ties with China, with Prime Minister Marape’s recent attendance at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing

The Pacific Islands Forum members aim to work together as the United States and China compete for influence, advocating for mutual consultation before entering into security arrangements, as mentioned in last year meeting’s final report.

The theme of this year’s meeting is “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper.” The theme represents the collective voice and aspirations of the Pacific people, forging strong partnerships, and driving prosperity in our region.

More from Qonversations


Cyril Ramaphosa 2nd term

#TrendsArena: Mixed reactions as Ramaphosa begins second term


Mahlengi Bhengu Motsiri

ANC targets national unity government following failure to security majority in parliament


1694253914 modi bharat Large

The Indian elections: a summary


KwaZulu Natal no water

Why the ANC has become unpopular among KwaZulu-Natal residents

Front of mind