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US unveils new Pacific strategy

US unveils new Pacific strategy

The Biden administration has tabled a plan to ramp-up engagement with the South Pacific amid China’s growing influence.

The Biden administration has tabled a plan to ramp-up engagement with the South Pacific amid China’s growing influence.

US Vice President Kamala Harris has addressed the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting, hosted by Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, announcing a new strategy aimed at deepening US engagement with the region.

The strategy includes:

  • establishing new US Embassies in Kiribati and Tonga;
  • $60 million per year as part of an economic assistance agreement with the Forum Fisheries Agency;
  • the appointment of an inaugural US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum;
  • designing and releasing the inaugural US National Strategy on the Pacific Islands — a whole-of-government strategy to prioritise the Pacific Islands in American foreign policy and “drive effective implementation”;
  • reintroducing the Peace Corps to the Pacific — volunteers returning to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu;
  • advancing a push to re-establish a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Mission for the Pacific in Suva, Fiji — providing humanitarian and development assistance across the Pacific Islands; and
  • implementing and advancing the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) agreement — cooperating with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to more effectively support Pacific priorities.

The strategy builds on US President Joe Biden’s appointment of a Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations and $350 million in annual US assistance to the Pacific.

“We recognise that in recent years, the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve,” Vice President Harris told Pacific Islands counterparts.

“So, today I am here to tell you directly: We are going to change that.

“…We will significantly deepen our engagement in the Pacific Islands. We will embark on a new chapter in our partnership — a chapter with increased American presence where we commit to work with you in the short and long term to take on the most pressing issues that you face.”

The unveiling of this new Pacific strategy comes amid Chinese attempts to expand its presence in the region.

China recently struck a security deal with the Solomon Islands, which reportedly includes Chinese commitments to deploy “police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces” personnel to the Solomon Islands.

This would build on existing security ties between the nations, with China recently sending liaison officers and anti-riot equipment to train the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in public order.

The security agreement also reportedly provides China with greater maritime access to the island nation by facilitating, with the consent of the government, ship visits, logistical support and stopovers.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi had also proposed the “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision”, which offers intermediate and high-level police training for Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Niue, Vanuatu, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

This was accompanied by a five-year action plan, which calls for ministerial dialogue on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation.

This included the provision of forensic laboratories, cooperation on data networks, cyber security, and smart customs systems.

The plan also advocated for a “balanced approach” on technological progress, economic development and national security – backing a China-Pacific Islands free trade area and joint action on climate change and health.

However, Beijing reportedly withdrew its proposal after it was met with resistance from some Pacific Islands leaders. 

 [Related: Force Posture Review slated for ‘early next year’]

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