U.S. Agreed on Partnership with Pacific Islands to Reduce China’s Expanding Influence

The United States agreed on a partnership with Pacific Island nations at a summit with Pacific island leaders on Wednesday. Washington is set to provide a large investment to the region, where it hopes to reduce China’s growing influence. The Biden Administration is expected to announce an investment of more than $860 million in expanded programs to aid the islands, in addition to more than $1.5 billion provided in the last decade. While the administration has not yet confirmed the investment figure, a White House official said the 11 point declaration was endorsed by all the visiting leaders.

The visiting leaders included Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare, whose government had earlier indicated it was reluctant to sign the declaration, raising further concerns about the islands’ ties to China.

A draft declaration said the leaders agreed to strengthen their partnership and shared a vision to establish a region where  “democracy will be able to flourish.”

The draft underscored the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and freedom of navigation and overflight, while condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It is the first time the United States hosted so many leaders of a region it has considered its maritime backyard since World War Two, but into which China has been making steady advances. Some of the nations have complained about being caught in the middle of the superpowers’ battle for influence.

Leaders and representatives from 14 Pacific island states are taking part in the summit.

White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Campbell said last week that the summit would focus on climate change and health. Washington also wants to strengthen maritime security and island states’ communication links with Australia, Japan and India, he added.

Addressing the summit opening at the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said the two sides had agreed “a declaration of partnership between the U.S. and the Pacific.” He said it showed the United States and the Pacific have a “shared vision for the future and a determination to build that future together.”

Blinken further stressed that the shared vision “recognizes that only by working together can we actually tackle the biggest challenges of our time, that confront all of our citizens.”

He also underlined the climate crisis, health emergencies, promoting economic opportunity, and preserving a “free and open Indo-Pacific” where every nation regardless of size “has the right to choose its own path.”

Competition to exert influence in the Pacific has intensified this year after China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, prompting concerns of militarization of the region.

The White House is also working with the private sector for undersea cables for the region. The Pacific nations are eager for greater connectivity amongst themselves and with allies, however they have repeatedly stressed Washington should accept their priorities, making climate change, not superpower competition, the most urgent security task.

Leaders from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and New Caledonia have attended the summit as well as representatives from Vanuatu, Nauru and Palau.

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