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Pacific News Minute: Island leaders meet in Fiji to discuss concerns with China

Pacific Islands Forum
Kiribati marks its return to the Forum family and enters into the Suva Agreement with Fiji Prime Minister Hon. Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka and Kiribati President H.E Taneti Maamau on Feb. 23, 2023.

Regional tensions between the United States and China remain a concern for Pacific Island leaders. But when they gathered at the end of last week in Fiji, the leaders also had other topics on their agenda.

The Pacific Island Forum Special Leaders Retreat formalized the return of Kiribati to the 18-member regional group.

Leaders also discussed Japan's plan to release treated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. Some Pacific islands fear it could contaminate fish stocks, but Tokyo said it does not pose a risk.

Kiribati, located 1,800 miles southwest of Hawaiʻi, split from the forum right before its last meeting in July. It fueled concerns that the atoll nation had become isolated after forming diplomatic ties with Beijing.

Fiji's new Prime Minister has since repaired the damaged relationship with Kiribati. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand, both forum members, have criticized China's push for a policing role in the region.

China's ambitions in the Pacific have alarmed the U.S. and its allies, after Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

Reuters reported that Australia has upgraded its military ties with Fiji, formed a security pact with Vanuatu, and expects to sign off a security deal with Papua New Guinea this year.

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong also signed a wide-ranging cooperation agreement last week in Kiribati.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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