President Joe Biden is hosting the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island Countries Summit this week, a multi-day event in Washington focused on cooperation with U.S. countries in the Pacific region.
Biden’s effort to strengthen ties with nations by hosting the summit comes as the US shifts its focus to tackling China’s global influence, and the rally has already challenged US efforts to engage in strategic partnerships in the region.
In remarks Thursday at the State Department with Pacific leaders, Biden said, “Much of our world’s history is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the years and decades to come. And the Pacific Islands are a vital voice in shaping that future. And that is why my administration has made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with your countries.
Later Thursday, Biden will host Pacific leaders for dinner at the White House and take part in an official family photo. A senior administration official told reporters from the foreign pool who cover the White House that the leaders will also meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress on Thursday, as well as House business groups. of American commerce.
The summit began Wednesday when Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted State Department leaders and participated in events with several senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Gina Raimondo and Special Envoy of Climate President John Kerry.
While other presidents in the past have held summits with Pacific nations and the United States, all Pacific island nations have been invited to Washington for Biden’s summit. Attending will be leaders or representatives from Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Vanuatu. Australia, New Zealand and the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum attended as observers.
On Wednesday, amid a wide range of announcements about new commitments in the Pacific region, the White House said “the United States has directly provided more than $1.5 billion to support the Pacific Islands over the past decade and today announced more than $810 million in additional expanded programs.The United States will also recognize the Cook Islands and Niue.
The White House unveiled a nine-point statement outlining commitments, which focus on: supporting the U.S.-Pacific partnership, building U.S. capabilities in the region, coordinating with allies and partners, climate, economy, maritime security and cooperation, cybersecurity and connectivity, Covid-19 and health security and treatment of war legacies.
The administration on Wednesday released for the first time a U.S.-Pacific Islands strategy — a plan meant to complement the previous version of the Indo-Pacific strategy.
Notably, the strategy includes efforts to expand US diplomatic missions in the Pacific and pledges to deploy additional personnel to the region. The strategy would also establish the first U.S. envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and make several climate commitments, increasing the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of Defense presence in the region.
“The purpose of this document is to make it obviously consistent with the goals and objectives of our larger framework. But it specifically targets the concerns and objectives of the Pacific as a whole,” a senior administration official said in anticipation. Summit.
This official said that the summit is intended to address the “most daunting challenges in the Pacific”, including on climate change, health issues, education, jobs, challenges associated with recovery from Covid-19 and overfishing. The White House has worked closely in recent months with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and others on these issues, the official added.
Earlier this month, the Marshall Islands suspended talks to renew its security partnership with the United States, citing the long-running impact of US nuclear testing in the region some 70 years ago.
The statement released Thursday said the United States is “exploring options for (UXO) assistance for Kiribati and the Marshall Islands in late 2022 and maintaining a rapid reaction force to support (UXO) engagements in across the Pacific at the request of host country partners. .”
China has expanded ties with countries in the Pacific Ocean in recent years and Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, promising cooperation in trade and education.
Nations including the United States and Australia expressed concern following the announcement, and the Chinese government denied that the country would establish a military base on the Solomon Islands.
Despite earlier reports suggesting that the Solomon Islands would not sign the declaration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the leaders involved in the summit “came together around a declaration of partnership between the United States and the Pacific, a declaration that shows that we have a common vision for the future and a determination to build this future together.
“So I’m very happy that we have this today, that we have agreed on it, and it will give us a roadmap for the work that we will do in the future,” he added. .