by Staff Writers
Palikir, Micronesia (AFP) Sept 11, 2016
The Pacific Islands Forum expanded its boundaries to include French Polynesia and New Caledonia, a communique said Sunday at the end of its annual summit, underscoring the changing political face of the region.
The decision to enlarge the bloc came despite some opposition to French influence in the region dating back to nuclear tests of last century.
It also came as Fiji worked to establish strategic alliances with Russia, China and Indonesia.
News of the expansion was delivered in a single line in the communique issued at the end of the forum, which made no mention of intense negotiations behind the scenes.
However, French Polynesia leader Edouard Fritch said he had to impress upon the forum that they needed to trust each other.
"We live next to each other, why not be in the same house?" he said.
New Caledonia President Philippe Germain told reporters it was "finally uniting our Pacific family in discussions about our future, about environment issues, economic issues, education and health issues".
The now 18-member Pacific Islands Forum, which includes some of the world's smallest nations as well as Australia and New Zealand, focuses on important regional issues including global warming and preventing exploitation of fisheries.
Its end-of-summit communique called on Pacific states to maintain "a strong voice considering the region's vulnerabilities to the impact of climate change".
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