The United States is looking to re-engage in a region where China has been steadily expanding its influence.
The United States says it has agreed to a partnership with the Pacific Islands that offers the prospect of “big dollar” aid to a region where China has been expanding its influence.
U.S. President Joe Biden will host leaders and representatives from 14 island nations for a two-day summit at the White House, as the country intensifies its engagement in the region.
He added that all visiting leaders, including Solomon Islands President Manasseh Sogavare, had accepted the 11-point statement. Wednesday’s reports suggested that Sogavare, who has reached out to China in recent months, was not prepared to sign.
The White House did not immediately comment on the funding figure, but a U.S. official told Reuters news agency the report was accurate.
The United States is courting Pacific island nations at a time when Beijing has been increasingly active in the region, offering new investment and, in the case of the Solomon Islands, a security pact. Some of the leaders distrust China, but also that they will be caught in the middle of the two superpowers.
An official who briefed reporters ahead of the meeting acknowledged that Washington had not paid enough attention to the Pacific and would come up with new initiatives with “large numbers of dollars.”
Among the measures, the United States plans to expand its diplomatic presence in the region, opening three new missions and creating a new ambassadorial post at the Pacific Islands Forum, the key regional body. It also plans to re-establish a U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Fiji.
The leaders are being feted in Washington, D.C., and on Thursday they will have lunch at the U.S. Congress and dine with the president at the White House.
Speaking to Pacific Island leaders before the summit began, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they had “coalesced around a declaration of the U.S.-Pacific partnership,” which would provide a “roadmap” for their future relationship.
Holding to a document, he said it showed that the United States and the Pacific Islands have a “shared vision for the future and the determination to build that future together.”
Blinken said the shared vision “recognizes that only by working together can we address the greatest challenges of our time, which all of our citizens face.”
He cited the climate crisis, health emergencies, the promotion of economic opportunity, and the preservation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” where every nation, regardless of its size, “has the right to choose its path.”
For Pacific leaders, climate change is a crucial issue and the talks in Washington, D.C., included a session hosted by John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for the climate.
Kerry praised regional leaders for a more ambitious global climate goal than the one agreed upon at the 2015 Paris climate summit.
“It came from their persistence and commitment, so I want to thank them for that. It made a difference for the world,” he said.
A source familiar with the discussions told Reuters that a deal on submarine cables was also likely.
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