Sydney, Australia, Jul 13 (EFE).- The United States will set up two new embassies and triple funding for economic development and ocean resilience in the Pacific Islands, the country’s vice president announced via videolink at a regional leaders’ summit on Wednesday.
Washington and its allies view China’s growing influence in the strategic Pacific region with wariness and concern.
“To start, the United States will launch the process to establish two new embassies in the region: one in Tonga, one in Kiribati,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during a virtual address at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit, which will run until Thursday in Suva, Fiji.
The US will also increase aid to $600 million per year for the next 10 years to strengthen climate resilience, invest in marine planning and conservation, combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and enhance maritime security, she said.
“We recognize that in recent years, the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve. So today I am here to tell you directly: We are going to change that,” Harris said.
She also announced the appointment of the first US envoy to the Forum, the return of Peace Corps volunteers to the region, and steps by USAID “to expand its footprint to include re-establishing a regional mission in Suva.”
Harris’ announcement at the Pacific Islands Forum is geopolitically strategic as it comes after the signing in April of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands, and Beijing’s efforts to seal a similar pact with 10 island nations that they maintain diplomatic relations with.
The Forum, where some members defend the consensus mechanisms of the multilateral organization for regional security pacts with the powers, is under the shadow of Kiribati’s exit this week due to disagreements over the leadership of the body.
Kiribati, like the Solomon Islands, has moved closer to China since 2019 after severing ties with Taiwan, a decision that has caused concern in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, the countries that have historically dominated the Pacific, fearing that Beijing’s growing influence will destabilize the region.
“In this region and around the world, the United States believes it is important to strengthen the international rules-based order – to defend it, to promote it, and to build on it,” Harris said, urging unity against “bad actors seeking to undermine the rules-based order.”
The Pacific Islands Forum brings together Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. EFE