U.S. Aims to Deepen Pacific Ties, Counter China’s Regional Influence

The United States and the Federated States of Micronesia signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday, as Washington pledged future U.S. assistance to the Pacific island country to keep it out of China’s influence. With this agreement, the U.S. has signed MoUs on future assistance with three Pacific island countries, including Palau and Marshall Islands, as it negotiates cooperation agreement renewals that gives the United States access to huge swaths of the Pacific for defense purposes. Washington also made progress for a defense cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea, which will deepen military ties between the two countries.

The U.S. said last month it signed MoUs with the Marshall Islands and Palau and reached consensus on terms of U.S. economic assistance.

Friday’s statement said the latest MoU affirmed “our close and continuing partnership and reflecting our shared understanding reached on levels and types of future U.S. assistance to be requested for the Federated States of Micronesia.”

“The Memorandum of Understanding was signed as part of the ongoing Compact of Free Association negotiations and confirms our shared vision for a strong and enduring partnership that will continue to benefit both nations and the entire Pacific region,” the statement said.

The U.S. moves come as Washington and allies have been worried over China’s military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Under Compacts of Free Association (COFA) first agreed in the 1980s, Washington retains responsibility for the defense of the three island nations while providing them with economic assistance.

COFA provisions will expire in 2023 for the Marshall Islands and Micronesia and in 2024 for Palau. Though the island nations still have close ties to Washington, a failure to commit to economic aid could force them to look to China for funding or increased trade and tourism.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department also said on Saturday that it made “substantial progress” on the text of a defense cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea that lays the groundwork for closer military ties between the two nations.

The negotiations come as concerns over China’s claims over Taiwan and the disputed South China Sea have been mounting.

Negotiators from the U.S. State Department and Papua New Guinea’s Department of Foreign Affairs met in Hawaii, from Monday to Friday to discuss a defense cooperation agreement (DCA), the state department said.

When complete and signed, the agreement “will be the foundational framework around which our two nations will enhance security cooperations and further strengthen our bilateral relationship,” the state department said.

The agreement will also improve the capacity of Papua New Guinea’s Defense Force and increase stability and security in the region, the department said.

Two weeks ago, the Philippines granted the United States greater access to its military bases.

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