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Clinton visits Rarotonga as Fiji remains excluded from forum

Published: 6:27PM Friday August 31, 2012 Source: ONE News

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in the Cook Islands to meet Pacific leaders following their forum meeting.

The Pacific Forum has officially ended, with the focus now on the visit by one of the most powerful women in the world.
Clinton's plane touched down in Rarotonga tonight after a US military aircraft arrived ahead of her.
But before the high profile visit, leaders again took a hard stance on Fiji which remains isolated from the forum family.

"We can't just take all the brakes off and be completely trusting here," said Prime Minister John Key.

"But we do, fortunately or unfortunately, have to put a bit of trust in the system and see how and where it takes us."

Leaders acknowledged military-led Fiji is making progress towards elections scheduled for next year but they want to see more evidence.

"The most important rule is have elections," said Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

And in the end the decision was unanimous that Fiji should remain suspended from the island group.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said the other countries in the Pacific are taking their lead from what New Zealand and Australia are doing "particularly in terms of re-engaging with Fiji at a very high level."

The relationship between island states remains strong but over the next 24 hours they will be looking at building ties with the Unites States.

The US is concerned at China's growing influence in the region, particularly military ties with Fiji and Clinton is expected to discuss this.

Key said: "Obviously we will be sitting down with Hillary Clinton tomorrow, so we'll have an opportunity to talk about that. But generally my experience is that they've taken their lead from New Zealand."

The visit by the US Secretary of State has shown Pacific leaders their forum is growing in influence.

ONE News Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver says Clinton will be meeting with the island leaders informally over breakfast tomorrow before the real business begins.

Dreaver says this is all about countering Chinese heavy interest and influence in the region.

She says it is interesting that at the very time that Clinton's plane touches down tonight, the Chinese are holding a major press conference at 10pm local time.

This is perhaps a "not so subtle message" that the battle for that influence in the region is about to begin, Dreaver said.