Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands challenge casts shadow over Biden’s Pacific summit

And the Solomon Islands, which signed a controversial security pact with China earlier this year, is refusing to sign an 11-point summit declaration « designed to provide a framework for intensified US engagement in the Pacific », it reported on Tuesday. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The Solomons have been actively engaged in every effort that we have been involved in,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday, without addressing the Australian report.

The public refusal marks a humble kickoff for the two-day summit and underscores the challenges the Biden administration faces in redeeming US credibility in a region where China is filling the vacuum created by decades of disengagement. American. But the administration is adamant that the two-day summit will bring tangible benefits to Pacific island nations that will underscore the United States’ resolve to be its superpower partner of choice.

« This summit takes time to prepare for and we believe it will be a substantial investment, » the senior administration official said. “We will talk specifically about programs and agencies and specific budget numbers.”

Detailed deliverables fueled by generous US funding are essential if the administration is to counter China’s growing influence in the region. For many Pacific Islanders, the most visible symbols of American involvement are the remnants of former World War II battlefields, such as Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. This vacuum of influence has lubricated China’s diplomatic forays over the past two decades in the absence of a competitive American alternative.

The administration is coordinating its summit outreach with its Blue Pacific Initiative partners, allies Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom « to add more resources, more capacity, more of diplomatic engagement as a whole, » the official said. The summit will also mark the launch of the U.S. government’s first-ever Pacific Strategy, a region-specific complement to the Indo-Pacific Strategy Containing China launched by the administration in September 2021.

« This [strategy] specifically targets the concerns and objectives of the Pacific as a whole… [and] on how to organize the disparate elements of the US government to tackle issues such as climate change, training, issues associated with [over]fishing, investments in technology,” the official said.

Initiatives to address the existential threat that the climate crisis poses to Pacific island countries will command the attention of their leaders. China has helped fuel its diplomatic forays with tailored climate diplomacy aimed at addressing concerns about rising sea levels. China’s special envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, summoned earlier this a « climate change dialogue and exchange meeting » in Beijing this month with diplomatic representatives from Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Fiji and Tonga, the Chinese foreign ministry reported.

The administration will deploy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Biden climate envoy John Kerry on Wednesday to tout the administration’s determination to improve Pacific island countries’ ties with states. -United.

“We will have a major event the next day at the Chamber of Commerce where leaders will have the opportunity to engage with a wide range of business groups ranging from tourism [and] going from energy to technology, to basically talk about how U.S. business groups can be more actively engaged,” the official said.

But the Marshall Islands’ decision to freeze COFA renewal talks is a kick in the administration’s teeth just days after the president’s special envoy, Ambassador Joseph Yun. told POLITICO that the State Department is on track to renew COFAs with Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands by the end of 2022 after six months of intensive negotiations. And that raises questions about the Biden administration’s strategy to use these COFAs to effectively shield these three countries from Beijing’s efforts to replace the United States as the region’s dominant superpower.

And Solomon Islands’ resistance to signing the summit declaration will increase the administration’s concerns about the influence of the country’s security pact with Beijing on its relationship with the United States.

The Solomon Islands denied port access to a US coast guard last month for unspecified “bureaucratic reasons” and later imposed a temporary moratorium on all foreign vessels. ships.

The administration is confident that the summit will demonstrate that the United States can provide meaningful, long-term engagement with Pacific island nations.

“At every step of the process, we have informed our Capitol Hill partners extensively of new assistance efforts, new commitments, and found consistent bipartisan support,” the official said. « And so, in a deeply divided and often contentious city, we’ve found that the Indo-Pacific is generally an area where Democrats and Republicans can make common cause. »


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