US territories vying for Pacific Island Forum associate membership

Two US Pacific territories are steps closer to having their membership upgraded at the main political decision-making body in the region – the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

The Forum confirmed to RNZ Pacific that its representatives have visited Guam and American Samoa in light of the US territories Forum membership bid.

Guam’s acting governor Lt Joshua Tenorio has made a plea for both territories to have a seat at the table.

PIF deputy secretary general Esala Nayasi said the applications are on the 53rd Forum Leaders Meeting agenda scheduled to take place next month.

In June, the US government agreed to allow its Pacific territories to join the PIF as non-voting associate members, modifying an old policy that previously barred their participation in international organisations in “any capacity.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously said their political status means they can not be full voting members but supports their application to be non-voting associate members.

“We have received the applications for both Guam and American Samoa. The Secretariat has undertaken its own assessments with the with the guidance of members that will be presented through the Forum processes and the earliest opportunity for leaders to contribute it will be in Tonga,” Nayasi said.

Founded in 1971, the PIF is the region’s premier political and economic policy organisation. It is an influential bloc in the region caught in a tug-of-war among the world’s superpowers.

The Forum comprises of 18 members including Australia, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

New Caledonia and French Polynesia, both French territories, are currently the only non-self-governing members.

With its mission to address and act on issues that are affecting the region, Tenorio told RNZ Pacific without their inclusion, the organisation is incomplete.

“The plea would be for the Pacific Islands Forum to complete itself by ensuring the participation of the Mariana Islands with Guam and the Northern Marianas and of course, American Samoa to make the Pacific Islands Forum truly comprehensive regional political organization of the entire Pacific.”

Leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga

Tenorio said Guam’s motives in getting involved in the Forum was to fill a void.

“It’s hard to believe that the Strategy for Blue Pacific Continent would exclude the Mariana Islands, when we’re the first of the islands to have contact with the rest, we are one of the oldest of the civilizations in the Pacific outside of Melanesia. And there are so many things that are occurring [and] work that we’re doing on sustainable development.”

Guam had been lobbying for pledges of support for its associate membership status at the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in Hawai’i last month.

Tenorio said it was a matter of parity.

“Even the Cook Islands and Niue, who have a free association with New Zealand, but have New Zealand citizenship, are considered full members. I think that it is really hard and I hope that we do not end up being excluded from the PIF. It would be a pretty sad thing.”

He said uniting on climate change was crucial.

Also being a key transport hub and chain for pacific travel as well as having underwater cables for “highspeed internet…refined transportation lines, strengthened because of the presence of the US military.”

“I think we can provide real aid and improve the quality of life for the people in the Pacific, which is really what our responsibilities are as leaders.”

US President Joe Biden (C) stands for a group photo with Pacific Islands Forum leaders following the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Summit, at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 25, 2023 (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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