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RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS (15 November 2023): A Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders’ caucus was held at the Nautilus Resort in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on Monday 6 November 2023, as part of the Group’s preparations for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM).

The MSG Caucus meeting was Chaired by the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Environment and Climate Change on behalf of the Prime Minister of Vanuatu and Chair of the MSG.

In attendance at the MSG Caucus meeting was Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji; Hon. John Rosso, Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea; and Hon. Jeremiah Manele, Foreign Minister of Solomon Islands, all deputizing for their respective Heads of Government. 

The caucus expressed appreciation to the Cook Islands Government Organising Committee and the PIF Secretariat for providing the space in the 52nd PIF Leaders Meeting Programme for the MSG to meet.

The Director General of the MSG Secretariat, Leonard Louma, noted that this was the first time for PIF to formally assign a timing within the PIF Leaders Meeting for MSG to caucus and urged MSG to take advantage of this opportunity. He expressed hope that this gesture be regularized and mainstreamed into the format of PIF Leaders Meetings.

The Chairman, Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, emphasized the importance for MSG Members to caucus as MSG before PIF Leaders Meetings, as well as at other international meetings, to develop and agree on common positions and strategies. 

On the issue of West Papua and the visit of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to West Papua and the Papuan Provinces, the proposal by Prime Minister Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka for a “Special Envoy or Emissary” was agreed to and on the suggestion of Papua New Guinea, approved for PM Rabuka and Prime Minister, Hon. James Marape to be the MSG designated representatives to meet with President Widodo on the margins of the APEC Leaders Meeting in San Fransisco.

It was agreed that a letter be written to President Widodo asking for a dialogue meeting with Prime Ministers Rabuka and Marape in San Fransisco. 

With regards to the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the responsibility of States regarding Climate Change, the MSG Caucus meeting was informed that the ICJ has granted the MSG Secretariat standing to make a Submission on the Question of the Obligations of States in Respect of Climate Change to the Court and that the MSG can make written comments on other written Submissions by other countries and organisations by 22 April 2024.

The MSG Caucus meeting however noted that the PIF Secretariat’s own participation in the advisory proceedings of the ICJ is yet to be formalized.

In relation to the Port Vila Call For A Just Transition To A Fossil Fuel Free Pacific, it was noted that the Udaune Declaration on Climate Change embodies the general position of the MSG Members with respect to Climate Change. The Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil fuel Free Pacific (Port Vila Call) was acknowledged to be consistent with the Pacific countries calls for more ambitious actions and targets in the NDC’s and is aimed at limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius below the pre-industrial levels.   

It was noted that MSG sought support for this Port Vila Call at the FOC meeting in September and received support in a very carefully worded decision that does not explicitly endorse the Port Vila Call but welcomes the aspirations of the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific.

Leaders agreed to raise this at the Retreat for an explicit endorsement by PIF Leaders of the Port Vila Call for a Just transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific. 

In relation to the Security Environment in the Region, it was noted that while regional traditional powers have made concerted efforts to have countries in the region choose sides in the big power contestation for influence in our region, the Efate Declaration on Mutual Respect, Responsibility, Cooperation and Amity or Efate Security Declaration clearly and appropriately outlines the position of MSG countries. 

Prime Minister Rabuka announced his intention to introduce a proposal for a Zone of Peace to enhance peace and security in the region. In support of this, the MSG Caucus meeting noted that this was consistent with principles espoused in the Efate Security Declaration, which basically reaffirms that climate change and the security of the environment remain our existential threat and focus of attention by Pacific countries should be on this. It affirms the sovereign rights of MSG Members to choose to engage with whoever they consider is appropriate on the basis of their respective security needs and concerns. Furthermore, the Efate Declaration defines principles of conduct that stakeholders must abide by when operating in the MSG area and MSG national jurisdictions.  

As well, the MSG Caucus meeting was reminded that the MSG has an MSG Security Strategy (MSGSS), whose key features relate to the advancement of MSG home-grown and self-help security initiatives such as the Memorandum on Police Cooperation, the Humanitarian and Emergency Response Coordinating Centre (HERCC) concept, and the Formed Police Unit (FPU). It was suggested that the PIF be encouraged to formally call on all powers to refrain from trying to engage in a proxy competition in the region.

On the Fukushima Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) Nuclear Treated Waste Water Discharge into the Pacific Ocean, it was decided that MSG would advocate for the PIF to ensure that the proposed elevated dialogue mechanism with the PIF and the IAEA be established quickly, and a permanent monitoring presence of IAEA at Fukushima be activated soonest.

There was also agreement to ensure that the Fukushima issue is embedded as a standing item of the PALM agenda and that MSG would advocate for IAEA and the Japanese Authorities to help build national scientific capacities to effectively monitor the safety and effects of the ALPS discharge into the Pacific Ocean.

The acceptance and recognition of the principle of respect for the sovereignty of MSG individual members to determine their own National Government positions on this matter, was further affirmed by the MSG Caucus meeting.    

With respect to the MSG Secretariat Membership of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP), the MSG Caucus meeting again acknowledged that there was a real need for PIF to resolve the request by the MSG Secretariat to become a member of CROP given the importance of better coordinating efforts, and optimizing synergies, amongst regional organisations, in supporting PIF’s activities in prosecuting Pacific Regionalism and the implementation of the 2050 Strategy of the Blue Pacific Continent.    

With regards to Vanuatu’s Bid to Host the PIFLM in 2030, the MSG Caucus Meeting noted that while MSG Leaders at their August Summit approved to support Vanuatu’s bid, the PIF FOC, on the other hand, simply noted Vanuatu’s interest to host the PIF Leaders Meeting in 2030.

The MSG Caucus Meeting noted that Vanuatu was deprived of the opportunity to host the PIFLM due to COVID-19 and reaffirmed approval for MSG to support Vanuatu’s bid to host the PIF Leaders Meeting in 2030, to coincide with Vanuatu’s Golden Jubilee and mark the ending of the National Sustainable Development Plan (People’s Plan). 

All the issues covered and agreed upon at the MSG caucus meeting would better place MSG to influence decisions on shared interests on meetings such as the 52nd PIFLM.

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