Biden will hold the first meeting between the US and the Pacific Islands


President Joe Biden this week hosted the first US-Pacific Island Summit, a multi-day event in Washington based on US partnerships with countries in the Pacific region.

The culmination of Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with the nations comes as the United States has increased its focus on countering China’s global influence, and the meeting has already called into question American efforts to engage in strategic partnerships in the region.

The summit began Wednesday, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed State Department leaders and participated in events with several senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Gina Raimondo and the president’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry.

Biden will meet with leaders on Thursday and have dinner at the White House, along with an official family photo. A senior administration official told foreign reporters covering the White House that the leaders will also meet Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as business groups from the US Chamber of Commerce.

All Pacific Island countries have been invited. They will be leaders or representatives of the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Vanuatu. Australia, New Zealand and the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum are participating as observers.

The administration also released the US-Pacific Island Strategy for the first time on Wednesday, intended to complement the earlier release of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

“The purpose of this document is obviously to be consistent with the goals and objectives of our broader structure. But this is specifically aimed at the concerns and goals of the entire Pacific Ocean,” said a senior administration official ahead of the summit.

The official said the summit aims to address the Pacific’s “most pressing challenges”, including climate change, health concerns, education, jobs, challenges related to recovery from Covid-19 and overfishing. The White House has worked closely with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and others on these issues in recent months, the official added.

The summit is taking place despite tensions between the US and at least two of the countries involved – the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands earlier this month suspended talks on renewing their security partnership with the US, citing the impact of US nuclear tests some 70 years ago.

China has been expanding ties with Pacific countries in recent years, and Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, pledging cooperation in trade and education.

Nations including the US and Australia expressed concern after the announcement, and the Chinese government has denied that the country will establish a military base in the Solomon Islands.

Asked about reports that the Solomon Islands will not sign an 11-point declaration at the summit, the administration’s second-highest official said that “very good consultations” have been held and that while there is more work to be done, “the overall effort has been made. It made it clear what the US wants to achieve and do going forward. and that there are large areas of overlap with what Pacific Island leaders expect.”