President Joe Biden is set to welcome Pacific Island leaders to counter China’s growing influence, showering them with gifts ranging from an American football experience to new embassies.
The Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ conference will take place on Monday and Tuesday, a year after the inaugural meeting, which was also held in Washington.
The United States has pledged greater commitment to the Pacific islands
According to senior administration sources, Biden will propose a stronger US posture in the regionas well as money for infrastructure projects and greater cooperation in the oceans, especially in combating illegal fishing.
The forum brings together governments and territories from Australia to the sparsely populated microstates and archipelagos spread across the Pacific Ocean.
“There is no doubt that the People’s Republic of China has a role in all of this… its assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has become a factor that requires us to maintain our strategic focus“said a senior White House official on condition of anonymity, referring to China by the abbreviation of its formal name.
China’s influence will be felt through the absence of the Solomon Islands prime minister, who is now closely aligned with Beijing.
Manasseh Sogavare, who was in New York last week to attend the UN General Assembly, did not extend his stay in the United States.
“We are disappointed that he has decided not to attend this very special summit,” another White House official said.
Another goal of the meeting is to renegotiate the “Compacts of Free Association” in the Marshall Islands before the end of the current term on Saturday.
The agreement, which Washington also has in Micronesia and the Palau archipelago – other territories formerly under US administration – allows the United States to have a military presence on the islands.
Instead, Washington provides economic aid and security guarantees, and islanders can live and work in the United States.
The Marshall Islands demanded that any new agreement take into account the effects of Washington’s nuclear testing program in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Biden administration expects to announce “very substantial progress” in the negotiations, a second White House official said.