The United States will provide an additional $810 million in support to Pacific island nations and recognize Niue and the Cook Islands as sovereign states, as part of the country’s efforts to increase engagement with the region following China’s growing presence in the Pacific.
President Joe Biden announced the series of measures on Thursday, at the first United States-Pacific summit in Washington, which saw leaders from more than a dozen Pacific island countries visit the United States.
Biden told the leaders the United States was committed to strengthening its presence in the Pacific, especially as the region faces the “existential threat” of climate change. As part of the $810 million in new aid over the next decade, $130 million will be dedicated to efforts to combat the effects of the climate crisis.
The White House unveiled its Pacific Strategy, outlining its plan to help the Pacific on issues including climate change, maritime security and protecting the area from overfishing.
“Pacific islands are a critical voice in shaping the future, and that’s why my administration has made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with your countries,” Biden said at the start of a meeting with island leaders. at the State Department.
“We are seeing very clearly the consequences of climate change around the world, including in the United States right now, and I know your nations are feeling it keenly.”
The summit comes as China’s influence in the Pacific has grown. Earlier this year, the Solomon Islands signed a controversial security pact with Beijing.
After indicating that he would not adopt the declaration issued by the United States and the Pacific countries at the end of the summit, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, joined the other Pacific countries to sign the agreement.
The United States has been criticized for being largely absent as a Pacific partner in recent decades, with White House officials acknowledging that the lack of US attention to the region since the end of the war cold left an opening for Beijing to exert its influence.
The Pacific Strategy Paper released by the United States warns of “increased impacts on geopolitical competition” for Pacific island countries, making specific reference to China.
“Increasingly, these impacts include pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China, which threaten to undermine the peace, prosperity and security of the region and, by extension, the United States,” the report said. strategy document. “These challenges demand renewed U.S. engagement throughout the Pacific Islands region.”
The leaders of Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and New Caledonia traveled to Washington for a two-day summit this week.
Vanuatu and Nauru sent representatives, and Australia, New Zealand and the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum sent observers, according to the White House. The president hosted the leaders for a dinner Thursday night at the White House.
The administration said it would also establish a regional U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Fiji’s capital, Suva, and reiterated plans to open embassies in the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Kiribati, and to bring Peace Corp volunteers back to some Pacific countries.
The White House also announced its intention to recognize the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign states, after “appropriate consultations”. The United States currently recognizes the islands as self-governing territories. The move would make both states eligible for some of the new funding announced by the United States.
Associated Press contributed to this report.