In a bid to strengthen diplomatic ties and counter China’s growing influence in the South Pacific, President Joe Biden has announced the opening of new U.S. embassies on the Cook Islands and Niue.
This announcement came as part of a broader diplomatic effort as President Biden hosted Pacific Island leaders for a two-day US-Pacific Island Forum Summit in Washington, DC, with climate change discussions high on the agenda.
Concerns over China’s increasing military and economic presence in the region have prompted the Biden administration to prioritize improved relations in the Pacific.
Plans for the new embassies were confirmed by two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity prior to the official announcement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that the summit aimed to strengthen ties with Pacific Island nations and address global challenges such as climate change, economic growth, and sustainable development.
As part of the summit, Pacific Island leaders attended a Baltimore Ravens football game and visited a Coast Guard cutter in Baltimore Harbor to discuss maritime security and combat illegal fishing.
Climate change remains a key issue for Pacific Island nations, who have criticized wealthier countries for not doing enough to combat climate change, despite contributing significantly to the problem.
Additionally, these nations have voiced concerns over profiting from loans provided to vulnerable countries to mitigate climate change’s effects.
During last year’s summit, the White House unveiled its Pacific strategy, outlining its plans to assist Pacific Island leaders in addressing issues like climate change, maritime security, and overfishing.
The strategy pledged $810 million in new aid to Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million for climate change mitigation efforts.
Meg Keen, director of Pacific Island Programs at Australia’s Lowy Institute, noted that while the U.S. had established new embassies and USAID offices in the region since last year’s summit, Congress had not yet approved the funds.
Keen emphasized that Pacific island countries welcomed U.S. re-engagement with the region but expressed concerns about potential geopolitical tensions leading to increased militarization.
The Pacific Island forum includes Australia, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
While most members of the 18-member forum were sending their top elected officials or foreign ministers to the summit, the administration expressed disappointment that Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare chose not to remain in Washington for the White House summit, despite attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.
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