Kiribati formally rejoins Pacific Islands Forum

An organization of Pacific island countries has welcomed Kiribati's return to the group. The step to restore regional unity came amid rising pressure on member states as the US and China compete for influence.

Kiribati left the Pacific Islands Forum in protest last July over a dispute regarding the group's leadership. It formally re-joined the 18-member bloc at last week's Special Leaders' Retreat in Fiji.

The retreat's joint communique thanked member countries Australia and New Zealand, which jointly pledged an initial 3 million New Zealand dollars to establish two new organizational offices in Kiribati and Palau.

The group said that it will also explore appointing a 'special envoy' to Washington.

Some member countries have said that President Joe Biden may attend the group's regular meeting in Cook Islands later this year. The White House has made no official announcement on this.

China has been expanding its own influence in the region. It made a security pact with the Solomon Islands last April.