The return of controversial Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama to the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) is an important milestone for the annual event, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
She made the comments ahead of her three-day trip to Tuvalu for the Pacific Island Forum.
Ardern touches down today and has a number of bilateral, and trilateral, meetings planned with Pacific leaders over the coming days.
She will be back in New Zealand on Friday night.
It has been 10 years since the Fijian Prime Minister has attended the forum, after years of boycotting the event in 2009.
It was that year that leaders at the forum suspended Fiji's interim government after it seized power in a military coup and refused to hold democratic elections.
Bainimarama has since vowed not to come to the forum until the issue of Australia's "undue influence" within the event was addressed.
In 2015, he said in a speech that the Australian government "seems intent on putting its own immediate economic interests first".
But since then, the relationship between the two nations has improved and Bainimarama has a seat at the table this year.
Speaking to the Herald ahead of the trip, Ardern said the Fijian Prime Minister's presence at the forum was an "important milestone".
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"The chance to have him back at PIF is something that is being welcomed with much anticipation."
Ardern said she has met with Bainimarama on several occasions since she became Prime Minister.
They met at the UN in September last year.
In a tweet at the time, he said: "Thank you, New Zealand PM [Jacinda Ardern] for bringing your baby girl along to the [UN] General Assembly this week. Having little Neve in the room is a humbling reminder that the world's leaders must act not for ourselves, but for the future of our children and our planet."
Ardern said New Zealand's bilateral relationship with Fiji is strong.
Asked how much of an emphasis New Zealand had at getting Bainimarama back at the table, Ardern said she didn't want to place too much of a judgment on that.
She said she would be encouraging the forum to have all Pacific members at the table.
Ardern will be meeting with Bainimarama for one of a number of bilateral meetings during the trip.
She will also be meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
She said her conversation with Morrison would build on previous talks the pair have had.
"It's really a continuation of discussions I recently held with him which, of course, always extends into issues between Australia and New Zealand directly."
The last time Ardern and Morrison met was in Melbourne last month.
At the time, Ardern said Australian rules that saw people deported to New Zealand – despite the fact they had very little to do with the country – were having a "corrosive effect with our relationship".
Despite her lobbying, Aussie lawmakers were not swayed and gave no indication the rules would be changing.
But it's likely this topic will come up in Tuvalu, as Ardern promised to continue pushing the issue.
But she said, at PIF, she and Morrison would probably talk about more regional issues.
"It is the Pacific Island Forum, no doubt issues around oceans policy and some of those environmental issues and fisheries are likely to be something we discuss when we're in the region."
Once called Ellice Islands, Tuvalu is the fourth-smallest country in the world. It is composed of nine small islands – three reef islands and six atolls – and is home to just over 11,000 people, roughly the size of Gore.
The Pacific Island Forum will be hosted in its capital city of Funafuti, which has a population of roughly 5000. Some 500 people are expected at the forum, meaning the capital's population will swell by 10 per cent over the week.
This means it is likely the small island nation will come under pressure when it comes to internet and power. But officials have been preparing for the event for months and are confident that Funafuti is ready for PIF and can handle the influx.
Pre-fabricated housing has been made available for officials, leaders and journalists.
Tuvalu annual GDP is $32 million – roughly $4600 per person – and its main currency is Australian dollars.
What's on the PIF agenda?
• Climate change: This will again be the main focus of talks during PIF. Before the formal talks began, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was calling on Australia to do more to fight the effects of climate change. New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has also said that climate change was an area which will "dominate" the discussions this week.
• China's influence in the Pacific: Just days before the start of PIF Papua New Guinea asked China to refinance its close to AU$12 billion national debt. This comes at a time when China is looking to shore up more support in the Pacific. China is not a member of PIF, but Ardern confirmed that a Chinese representative will have a presence at the forum, as will the US.
• Drug smuggling: Drug smuggling in the Pacific has become a growing problem. Last year, hundreds of bricks of cocaine washed up along beaches in Fiji and Tonga and officials says it's having an adverse impact on the people living on the islands. It's likely leaders will be discussing how to solve this problem.
Who are the main players at PIF?
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama:
Bainimarama shot to political power in 2006 as the leader of a coup. He was acting President for a year, before becoming acting Prime Minister in 2007 – a position he occupied until 2014. That year, he won the Fijian election and has been Prime Minister since. It is Bainimarama's first PIF since 2009.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi:
He's been Prime Minister for 20 years and has been a Samoan politician for almost 40. Born in Lepa, Samoa, in 1945, Tuilaepa was educated in New Zealand. He went to St Paul's College before attending Auckland University, where he got a Masters of Commerce.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape
Marape is the newest leader at PIF this year, having been sworn in as Prime Minister in May after former PNG leader Peter O'Neill resigned after losing support from his party. He is the country's eighth Prime Minister and has been a member of the PNG's Parliament since 2007.
Tongan Prime Minister Samuela 'Akilisi Pohiva
Pohiva, who's been Tonga's Prime Minister since 2014, spent a week earlier this month in hospital in Auckland, according to RNZ. But he said he has every intention of coming to PIF. Formerly a teacher, Pohiva has been in the Tongan Parliament since 1987.
Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga
Sopoaga is the leader of PIF host nation, Tuvalu – the fourth smallest country on Earth. He was the country's deputy Prime Minister before being elected as Prime Minister in 2010. Recently, he has been applying pressure on Australia to do more to address the impacts climate change.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Morrison became Australia Prime Minister after the resignation of Malcolm Turnbull last year. In May, he was elected Prime Minister after his Liberal Party got enough votes to form a Coalition. Australia is by far the largest PIF country and Morrison is likely to face pressure on what the country is doing about climate change.