UNITED STATES: At an international summit with Pacific island leaders present, the United States pledged its allegiance to a partnership for a future with them and also held out the prospect of “big dollar” aid to a region where it hopes to stem China’s expanding influence.
The Washington Post quoted US officials saying that the Biden administration would announce more than $860m as an investment in expanded programs at the two-day summit, on top of more than $1.5bn provided in the past decade.
The White House had no immediate comment on the funding figure, but a US official said the newspaper’s reporting that all the visiting leaders had endorsed an 11-point statement of vision committing to joint endeavours was accurate.
The summit was attended by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, whose government had earlier indicated that it would not sign the declaration, raising further concerns about its ties with China. Sogavare’s spokesperson did not provide further comment.
The summit was historic in the sense that it was the first time the US became host to so many countries it has long considered its maritime backyard since the second world war.
The situation has turned for the worse, according to the US, now that China has been making steady advances. Some of the smaller nations now complain about being caught up in the two superpowers’ fight for influence over international markets.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, welcomed the world leaders to the summit with a welcoming message: “You can count on the United States partnering with you.”
The eventual lead-up to the meeting had been shadowed by the sudden leak of controversial documents showing that Solomon Islands had rejected a draft US agreement with the region and that Micronesian leaders had raised serious concerns about the level of financial assistance on offer.
A leaked note, discovered by the Guardian, written by the embassy of the Solomon Islands in New York, which revealed the existence of a controversial security deal with China in April, said that the country would not be encouraging a regional diplomatic agreement being proposed by the US.
Blinken on Wednesday made a veiled reference to China’s growing influence and assertiveness around the region and across Asia, saying that the US would support the islands in “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific where every nation no matter how big, no matter how small has the right to choose its path.”
Moreover, Blinken also promised $4.8m to strengthen “blue economies”, reinforcing plans to clean oceans with more sustainable fishing- following up on an initiative last week on the sidelines of the UNGA.
He also promised a confident stance on climate change by the US, which under the Biden administration has faced a ton of criticism from the opposition, the Republican party.
Biden is set to personally meet the leaders on Thursday, with hopes to re-establish Washington’s pre-eminence after long taken for granted a region that the US has maintained superiority over for decades.
As part of a new strategy, the US would appoint its first envoy to focus on the Pacific Islands and was adding three more diplomatic missions in the region, bringing the total from six to nine, officials said.
After intensive US and Australian appeals, both of whom stood on guard as the Solomon Islands signed its security pact with China, western officials fear that Beijing will exploit the island nation as a military base to expand into the Pacific or to pressure Taiwan, a self-governing, autonomous country, whose democracy is being contested by Beijing.
Sogavare, in a speech at the United Nations last week, vowed that his tiny country “will not be coerced into choosing sides”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Weng Wenbin, asked about Biden’s summit, said that Pacific Island nations were sovereign and had the right to build relations with any country.
“Growing relations with the Pacific Island countries is not about seeking a sphere of influence and does not target any third party,” he told reporters.