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Pacific Islands Forum mend rift as super powers focus on region

Several leaders of Pacific Islands Forum nations met on Tuesday to resolve a dispute over leadership selection that had threatened to split the region's major diplomatic group.
The agreement to resolve their differences comes at a crucial time when China's diplomatic efforts in the region have raised security concerns among U.S. allies.
The forum includes 18 members spanning the South Pacific's three cultural and geographic groups of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Some members have diplomatic ties to Taiwan while others recognise Beijing.
China was unable to reach a sweeping trade and security pact last week with 10 nations that recognise Beijing, after some nations called for the matter to be discussed at a wider regional meeting.
On Tuesday, the leaders of Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Palau and Marshall Islands met in Fiji to resolve a dispute over how the forum's chief diplomat was elected in 2021.
Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, also chairman of the forum, wrote in a tweet on Tuesday evening that proposed reforms for the forum, which need to be adopted by all members at the next meeting, would deepen trust across the region.
"We took an important step toward re-uniting our Pacific family," he wrote.
"The family stays together," Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said, according to ABC's Radio Australia.
An agreement was struck for the forum's secretary-general, former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, to complete his term, and his successor to come from Micronesia in 2024, local media reported.
The future of the forum, whose leaders are due to meet in July, has been under a cloud since five Micronesian nations said last year they would quit the group.
In February, the Micronesian states had temporarily rescinded their withdrawal from the forum to attend a regional meeting with U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken in Fiji.
The Quad security group of the United States, Australia, Japan and India had also last month expressed "support for Pacific Islands Forum unity".


© Thomson Reuters 2022.
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