US President Joe Biden is set to announce the opening of new embassies on the Cook Islands and Niue in an effort to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific. The announcement comes as Biden prepares to host the US-Pacific Island Forum Summit in Washington, DC, where talks will focus on climate change and other pressing issues in the region.
Improving relations in the Pacific has become a priority for the Biden administration due to concerns about China’s military and economic influence. Senior administration officials have confirmed the plans for the embassies, but have asked to remain anonymous.
In addition to the summit, Pacific Island leaders will have the opportunity to attend a football game and receive a briefing by the US Coast Guard on maritime issues. They have been vocal about their disappointment in rich countries for not doing enough to control climate change.
Last year, the US unveiled its Pacific strategy, pledging $810m in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade. Since the last summit, the US has opened new embassies and USAID offices in the region, but Congress has yet to approve the funds.
While Pacific Island countries welcome US engagement, they do not want geopolitical tensions to lead to militarization. The Pacific Island forum includes 18 member countries, with most sending their top officials to the summit. However, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands and the Prime Minister of Vanuatu will not be attending due to their engagements with China and Australia, respectively.
The US is still in negotiations to open an embassy in Vanuatu, which has close ties with China. On the other hand, the US has already opened embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga and renewed agreements with Palau and Micronesia.
The US has yet to renew an agreement with the Marshall Islands, which is seeking more compensation for US nuclear testing in the past. However, the Biden administration is confident of reaching a deal with the Marshall Islands soon.
This move by the Biden administration highlights the US’s commitment to strengthening its presence in the South Pacific and countering China’s growing influence in the region. The new embassies and increased aid pledge demonstrate the importance the US places on maintaining strong relationships with Pacific Island nations. As climate change and other challenges continue to impact the region, the US’s engagement and support are crucial for fostering stability and development.
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