Amid China concerns, Biden pledges to meet Pacific island needs

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WASHINGTON, Sept 29 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden, with his administration pledging to help Pacific island leaders stave off what he calls “economic coercion” from China, promised them on Thursday to work harder hard with allies and partners to meet their needs.

Leaders and representatives from 14 Pacific island states are taking part in a two-day summit that ends on Thursday.

It is the first time the United States has hosted so many leaders from a region it has considered a maritime backyard since World War II, but in which China is making steady progress.

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Biden said the United States launched an initiative this year called Partners in the Blue Pacific “to coordinate more effectively with our allies and partners around the world to better meet the needs of people across the Pacific.”

He pledged to make strengthening America’s partnership with their countries a priority and helping them deal with what he called the “existential threat” posed by the climate crisis.

Biden made no mention of China in brief public remarks, but said, “The security of America, quite frankly, and of the world depends on your security and the security of the Pacific Islands.”

Earlier, the United States released its first strategy for relations with Pacific island nations, noting that they face pressing climate challenges and heightened geopolitical tensions.

“Increasingly, these impacts include economic pressure and coercion from the People’s Republic of China, which threatens to undermine the peace, prosperity and security of the region and, by extension, of the United States,” he said. he declared.

China says its ties with Pacific island countries are based on mutual cooperation, that the region is no country’s backyard and that Washington’s attempts to stir up opposition to China there will fail .

Some nations have complained of being caught in the middle of the superpower battle for influence.

The Biden administration has pledged “crude” assistance to address climate, health and maritime security issues, and to strengthen communication ties with U.S. partners like Japan, Australia and India. Read more

A senior administration official said the United States would invest more than $810 million in expanded programs to help the islands, in addition to more than $1.5 billion provided over the past decade. Read more

That figure included a previously announced request to Congress for a $600 million, 10-year economic assistance agreement to build climate resilience and maritime security for island states, according to a White House backgrounder.

Patricia O’Brien, Pacific Islands expert at Georgetown University in Washington, said: “It seems like a lot, but when it’s split between so many government areas, nations and territories, it doesn’t seem that substantial. “, she said.

Washington also plans to begin talks with Papua New Guinea on a defense cooperation agreement soon, according to the fact sheet.

He also agreed to provide $2.8 million to ramp up FBI training with the Pacific Islands, including in 2022 with the Solomon Islands, which came under scrutiny earlier this year for having signed a security agreement with China.

This agreement included provisions for Chinese police to help maintain social order and fueled concerns among the United States and its allies about Chinese militarization of the region. Read more

An unsigned draft of a summit statement seen by Reuters said the leaders were committed to strengthening their partnership and shared a vision for the region where “democracy can flourish”.

He also said Washington remained committed to addressing the environmental and health concerns of the Marshall Islands, without specifically linking them to massive US nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s. cold war nuclear power.

Sources told Reuters that the State Department objected to an explicit reference to the Marshall Islands nuclear issue when negotiating the declaration earlier in the week. Read more

It remains a sticking point in talks with the Marshall Islands to renew economic aid to the country which hosts crucial US military installations, although Washington has pledged to try to reach a deal by the end of the year. ‘year.

STRATEGY DOCUMENT

The US strategy document says the region faces sovereignty challenges and adds that the United States will help ensure that Pacific governments and peoples “have the self-reliance and security to advance their own interests”.

Under this plan, the United States would increase its diplomatic and regional defense presence, help combat marine pollution, illegal fishing, drug trafficking and seaport security, work with partners on level of submarine cables and would promote “safe and reliable” telecommunications. partnerships.

This year, Washington has pledged to open three new embassies in the region – in Kiribati, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the RAND Corporation, said Washington had let ties with the region languish for decades, but the summit showed that had changed.

“We are still all working from, generally speaking, the same score, which is that we don’t want the Chinese to entrench themselves militarily in the region, and we don’t want them to corrupt the institutions of the region,” he said. said.

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Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Howard Goller

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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