US President Joe Biden, right, stands with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, center, and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape as they take part in a group photo with others leader of the Pacific Islands Forum as part of the US- Pacific Islands Forum Summit at the White House on September 25, 2023 in Washington. Photo: Win McNamee
President Joe Biden met with Pacific island leaders for the second White House summit in more than a year on Monday, part of a charm offensive aimed at preventing further Chinese intrusion into a strategic region that Washington has long considered its own backyard.
Before welcoming the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, Biden announced the US diplomatic recognition of two other 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 are committed to working with all countries around this table to achieve that goal,” said Biden at the welcoming ceremony.
Biden pledged to work with Congress to provide $US200 million in additional funding for the region for projects aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, stimulating economic growth, combating illegal fishing and improving public health, the US said in a document issued after the work. lunch with the group.
“These new programs and activities continue to demonstrate the commitment of the US to work with the Pacific Islands to expand and deepen our cooperation in the coming years,” the document said.
A joint statement said the sides agreed to hold another summit in 2025 and political clashes every two years thereafter.
The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown and the chairman of the Forum called the summit “an opportunity … to develop our partnership for prosperity.”
He urged Washington to “actively participate at the highest level” in the 52nd meeting of PIF leaders that he will host in a few weeks to endorse its 2050 Strategy.
The US wants to help island nations contain China
Biden hosted an inaugural summit of 14 Pacific islands a year ago and will meet again in Papua New Guinea in May. That meeting was canceled when 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 coercion” and a joint declaration was resolved to strengthen their partnership, saying they have a vision for a region where “democracy can flourish.”
Biden said the recognition of the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign and independent states “enables us to expand the scope of this lasting partnership as we seek to address the challenges that are most important to the lives of our people.”
He emphasized a personal link to the region – an uncle died in World War II after a crash landing on the coast of Papua New Guinea. He said the summit, as before, was about “building a better world.”
In Baltimore on Sunday, Pacific island leaders visited a Coast Guard cutter in port and were briefed on the crackdown on illegal fishing by the Commandant of the Coast Guard.
They also attended Sunday’s National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. Dozens of NFL players are of Pacific Islander heritage.
US President Joe Biden, center, poses for a group photo with Pacific Islands Forum leaders after the Pacific Islands Forum Summit, on the South Portico of the White House in Washington on September 25, 2023. Photo : Jim Watson
Some skip the summit
Representatives of all 18 members of the Forum attended the summit, but not all at the leadership level.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who has deepened ties with China, did not attend and a senior Biden administration official said the US was “disappointed” by it.
Washington appears to be making no progress on offers of more infrastructure funding and expanded aid to the Solomons. Sogavare visited China in July, announcing an agreement with Beijing police that builds on a security agreement signed last year.
The White House in 2022 said that the US will invest more than $ 810 million in expanded programs to help the Pacific islands.
Australia’s Lowy Institute Pacific Island Programs director Meg Keen said that while the US has opened new embassies and a USAID office in the region since last year’s summit, Congress has yet to approve most of those. funding pledge made last year.
He added that the Pacific island countries “welcome the re-engagement of the US in the region, but do not want geopolitical fights that result in an increase in militarization.”