President Joe Biden unveiled on Thursday a novel US strategy for the Pacific Islands as he prepared to host regional leaders for a first-of-its-kind summit amid great power competition with China.
Biden’s new strategy is focused on elevating Washington’s engagement with the Pacific Islands at a time when Washington is increasingly vying for influence with Beijing.
“The purpose of this document is to make it obviously consistent with the goals and objectives of our larger framing, but this is specifically aimed at the concerns and the objectives in the Pacific as a whole,” a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday as he previewed the new strategy.
The document explicitly notes increasing “pressure and economic coercion by the People’s Republic of China, which risks undermining the peace, prosperity and security of the region, and by extension of the United States.”
“These challenges demand renewed U.S. engagement across the full Pacific Islands region,” it said.
In a display of US commitment, the president is announcing $810 million in additional funding, according to the White House.
The sum is more than half of the $1.5 billion the US has earmarked for the region in the past decade.
Beyond financial assistance, the president is also extending diplomatic recognition to the Cook Islands and Niue, a territory in free association with New Zealand, “following appropriate consultations,” the White House said in a statement.
Biden is committed to seeking $600 million in 10 years from Congress to support the South Pacific Tuna Treaty through the development of regional fisheries, collaboration on efforts to combat climate change and bolstering maritime security.
The president is also committed to seeking $5 million to establish a fellowship program with the University of the South Pacific and US universities to off up and coming regional leaders additional opportunities in resource management, climate resilience and renewable energy development, among other focus areas.
The US-Pacific Islands summit is a multi-day gathering of regional leaders. It began Wednesday when Secretary of State Antony Blinken met regional leaders at the State Department. Biden is slated to host them at the White House on Thursday for a formal dinner.
All regional leaders were invited and leaders or representatives from the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu will be in attendance.
Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general are attending as observers.