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US Pacific islands partnership agreed after summit in Washington

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says “a declaration of partnership between the US and the Pacific” has been agreed.

September 29, 2022
29 September 2022

The United States has begun a first-of-its-kind summit with Pacific island leaders, saying they had agreed a partnership for the future and holding out the prospect of “big dollar” help to a region where it hopes to stem China’s expanding influence.

Leaders from 12 Pacific island states were expected to take part in a two-day summit in Washington DC, with two more sending representatives, and Australia and New Zealand attending as observers.

White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said last week the summit would focus on issues such as climate change and health.

The US and its allies want to boost maritime security and island states’ communications links with countries like Japan, Australia and India, he said.

It is the first time the United States has hosted so many leaders of a region it has considered its maritime backyard since World War II but into which China has been making steady advances. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, greets dignitaries from Pacific Island Countries during the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit at the State Department in Washington. AP Photo/Kevin Wolf

Some of the countries have complained about being caught in the middle of the superpowers’ battle for influence.

The leaders will be feted around Washington DC, including at the State Department, the US Congress, Coast Guard headquarters, by business leaders, and at the White House by President Joe Biden. 

On Wednesday, the US also will unveil a detailed new strategy specifically for the Pacific, a senior administration official told reporters.

Addressing an opening session at the State Department, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the two sides had agreed “a declaration of partnership between the US and the Pacific”.

Holding up a document, he said it showed the United States and the Pacific have a “shared vision for the future and a determination to build that future together”.

Blinken said the shared vision “recognises that only by working together can we actually tackle the biggest challenges of our time, that confront all of our citizens”.

Blinken cited the climate crisis and health emergencies and promoting economic opportunity and “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific where every nation – no matter how big, no matter how small, has the right to choose its own path”.

The Solomon Islands earlier told countries invited to the summit it will not sign the declaration under discussion, according to a note seen by Reuters, prompting further concern over its ties to China.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Damukana Sogavare has repeatedly appeared to snub the US, heightening the superpower’s concerns.

Strategic competition in the Pacific intensified dramatically this year after China signed a security agreement with the Solomons, prompting warnings of a militarisation of the region.

The official who briefed journalists acknowledged that the US had not paid the Pacific enough attention over the years and had been working closely with allied and partner countries “to add more resources, more capacity, more diplomatic engagement”.

“We will have big dollar numbers,” he said, adding that some of these would be announced on Wednesday.

“We have sought to align our strategy to meet their goals and objectives,” he said referring to the 2050 Blue Pacific Continent strategy Pacific leaders have announced that prioritises action on climate change.

Blinken pledged $US4.8 million ($A7.4 million) for a program, called Resilient Blue Economies, to support sustainable fisheries, agriculture and tourism.

Wednesday’s talks will include a session hosted by US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry.

A source familiar with the discussions said the White House was working with the private sector to roll out an agreement on undersea cables for the region, calling it “a reaction to China’s diplomacy and military expansion”.

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