The US is seeking deeper ties with the Pacific Islands, but are they interested?

The US is seeking deeper ties with the Pacific Islands, but are they interested?
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on gun crime and his “Safer America Plan" during an event in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 30, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

As China and the US compete for power in the Pacific, diplomatic activity has become a flurry. This past June, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went on a high-profile tour of the region that lasted 10 days. Soon after his return, the US announced a Pacific summit, which kicked off today. In July, US Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke at the Pacific Islands Forum and announced that the country was interested in playing a bigger role in the region by opening new embassies and boosting funding and development support.

So far, there have been some hiccups at the start of the US Pacific summit. The Soloman Islands have rejected a draft of a diplomatic agreement with the US, and Micronesian leaders said they’re concerned about the US’ “insufficient” funding to the Pacific. Plus, the Marshall Islands suspended talks with the US last week because it doesn’t think America has properly addressed the consequences of its nuclear weapons testing around the atolls from 1946 to 1958, when the country lit up the islands with enough firepower to equal the energy yield of 7,000 Hiroshima bombs. The Solomon Islands also signed a security pact with China earlier this year that raised eyebrows in the West and highlighted China’s growing influence in the region.

Key comments:

“Solomon Islands is not in a position to adopt the declaration this week and will need time to reflect on the declaration and refer the declaration through Solomon Islands’ national decision making process. Solomon Islands note that the declaration remains under discussion and have yet to enjoy consensus and will need further discussion,” said a leaked note written by the embassy of the Solomon Islands in New York.

“This [strategy] is specifically aimed at the concerns and the objectives in the Pacific as a whole … [and] about how to organize the disparate elements of the US government toward tackling issues like climate change, training, issues associated with [over]fishing, investments in technology,” a senior administration official for The Marshall Islands said.

“The goal [of the summit] is not just to listen [to Pacific leaders] but to put substantial resources on the table. We’ve never had Pacific Island leaders to the White House. It is not just one or two meetings. This is a very sustained effort that will involve almost all the key players in the US government that have interests in the Indo-Pacific,” said Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell to Australia’s ABC.

“The vast FAS territorial seas, which span much of the northern Pacific, are an important strategic buffer between US defense assets in Guam and Hawaii and East Asian littoral waters," said a report released last week by a US Congress-funded think tank.