Biden has made new promises to Pacific island leaders as China’s influence grows.


WASHINGTON, Sept 25 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden met with Pacific island leaders on Monday for the second White House summit in just over a year, aimed at curbing China’s interference in a region Deterrence is a goal that Washington sees as strategically important.

Before welcoming island leaders gathered under the umbrella of the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Biden announced US diplomatic recognition of two more Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands and Niue.

“The United States is committed to ensuring an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, prosperous and secure. We will work together with all nations around this table to achieve this goal,” Biden said at the reception. Willing to work.”

Biden pledged to work with Congress to provide an additional $200 million in funding for projects in the region aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, promoting economic development, To combat illegal fishing and improve public health. The group

“These new programs and activities demonstrate America’s commitment to working with the Pacific Islands to expand our cooperation in the coming years,” the document said.

The parties agreed to hold another summit in 2025 and political engagements every two years thereafter, a joint statement said.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, who chaired the island forum, called the summit “an opportunity to develop our partnership for prosperity…”. He urged Washington to “actively engage at a high level” in the 52nd PIF leaders’ meeting it will host in a few weeks to endorse the 2050 strategy.

The US wants to help the peninsular countries to stop China.

Biden hosted the inaugural meeting of the 14 Pacific island nations a year ago and was due to meet again in Papua New Guinea in May. The meeting was canceled after the US debt crisis forced Biden to cut short a trip to Asia.

Last year, his administration pledged to help the islanders counter China’s “economic oppression” and vowed to strengthen their partnership in a joint declaration, which said that they shared a vision for a region where “democracy would be able to flourish.”

Biden said recognizing the Cook Islands and New Zealand “will enable us to expand the scope of this enduring partnership as we seek to address the challenges that matter most in the lives of our people.”

He highlighted a personal connection to the region – an uncle was killed in World War II after crash-landing on the coast of Papua New Guinea. The summit, he said, was, then, “to build a better world.”

In Baltimore on Sunday, Pacific Island leaders toured a Coast Guard cutter in port and were briefed by the Commandant of the Coast Guard on combating illegal fishing.

He also attended Sunday’s National Football League (NFL) game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. Dozens of NFL players are of Pacific Islander heritage.

Skip some summits.

Representatives from all 18 PIF members attended the summit, but not all at leader level.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasi Sugawara, who has deepened ties with China, did not attend, and a senior Biden administration official said the US was “disappointed”.

Washington appears to have made no progress on offering the Solomons substantial infrastructure funding and expanded aid. Sugawara visited China in July, announcing a policing agreement with Beijing that builds on a security pact signed last year.

In 2022, the White House said the United States would invest more than $810 million in expanded programs to help Pacific islands.

While the US has opened new embassies and a USAID office in the region since last year’s summit, Congress has yet to implement the measures taken last year, said Meg Kane, director of Pacific Island programs at Australia’s Lowy Institute. Most of the funding commitments were not approved.

He added that Pacific island nations “welcome US re-engagement with the region, but do not want geopolitical conflicts to result in increased militancy.” Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman also did not attend the summit. He was elected two weeks ago to replace Ismail Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence vote over measures including signing a security pact with US ally Australia.

The US is still in talks to open an embassy in Vanuatu, but engagement with the country, which counts China as its largest external creditor, has not increased significantly. China signed a policing agreement with Vanuatu last month.

A senior Biden administration official said the US is on track to open an embassy in Vanuatu by early next year.

Fiji has welcomed a stronger US regional presence as making the Pacific “more secure”, but one of the most remote Pacific island states, Kiribati, 2,500 miles (4,000 km) southwest of Hawaii, said it The year she plans to upgrade the former World War II. A $29 million program to help Kiribati youth find work internationally was signed at the China-backed Two Airstrip Summit.

Washington this year renewed treaties with Palau and Micronesia that give it exclusive military access to strategic parts of the Pacific, but has yet to do so with the Marshall Islands, the site of large-scale U.S. nuclear testing in the 1940s. Wants more money to deal with legacy. and 50s.

The summit statement said the United States “intends to act swiftly to address the needs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands through ongoing compact negotiations” and its “ongoing environmental, public health, and other welfare concerns.” is determined to remove.”

Reporting by David Bernstrom and Trevor Honeycutt in Washington and Christy Needham in Sydney; Editing by Don Durfee, Grant McCool and Jerry Doyle

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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