The renewed American interest in Pacific island dynamics represents another step in the confrontation with China. The United States is offering to cooperate with those countries that are thinking about strategy and countering Beijing’s rhetoric
Leaders of more than a dozen Pacific island nations recently met in Washington for a forum aimed at underscoring America’s renewed commitment to the region. There are agreements that are about to be finalized that represent another level of complexity to this commitment, and there are other agreements that must be implemented because the influence game is targeting Beijing in many respects.
The renewed interest by the United States comes at a critical time, as the Pacific Islands have emerged as a focal point in the ongoing competition with China – and it is no coincidence that the People’s Republic of China is already moving accordingly. The two superpowers actively compete for the favor of these small island states, especially for access to tactically and strategically important waterways and airstrips.
US-Pacific rapprochement (disputed by Beijing)
The imminent expiration of US agreements with three Pacific island nations is the main concern on the agenda. Joseph YuenThe envoy leading the US negotiations with these countries confirmed Wall Street Journal Failure to renew these agreements could seriously jeopardize US credibility in the region. It also raises questions about the US commitment to countering China’s influence in the region. Therefore, in light of some statements, it is clear that the file is moving in the opposite direction: the United States is getting stronger.
The recent summit, which was held over two days at the White House, was the second meeting of its kind in less than a year, and indicated the expansion of American diplomatic and development ties in the region. president Joe Biden They made several important promises during the meeting, including an additional $200 million in funding to address climate change (a huge pandemic on a massive scale) and stimulate local economies. It is worth noting that this financial commitment is subject to congressional approval: it is unlikely that any problems will arise, because everything is understood in the anti-China strategy, but we are also entering an electoral climate (and any impudence is possible). The United States also expressed its intention to establish diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands and Niue and open embassies in these two countries, as well as in Vanuatu next year.
Some Pacific island leaders, including the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, who signed a security agreement with Beijing last year, chose not to attend the summit. They praised Chinese development aid as less restrictive and more attuned to their national needs, highlighting that Beijing’s growing influence in the region is regional activity – while Washington’s is seen as interference by an outside power.
China was quick to understand the strategic consequences of renewed US interest in Pacific island nations, and accepted this narrative. For example, China DailyBusiness Insider, an often propaganda government publication, recently noted that the West had largely forgotten about these countries until the United States and its allies began to view China as a competitor. Now, the region has become a focal point in geopolitical competition between the great powers and those islands will suffer the effects: that is the message from Beijing.
Indeed, the convergence of interests in the Pacific Islands represents an opportunity for both the United States and these countries. As Washington actively seeks to confront Beijing, Pacific island states could use renewed American interest to advance their own agendas — primarily geared toward achieving their goals on climate change, fishing rights, sustainable development and regional cohesion. It is this rapprochement that could serve as an effective counterweight to Chinese investment and influence in the region.
Contradictions in Washington
However, the timing of these developments is full of uncertainty. The internal steps within the US government, which could affect two of America’s closest partners in the Pacific region, coincide with President Biden’s efforts to portray the United States as a more reliable partner than China. In fact, the summit was held a few days before the end of the 20-year agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, scheduled for October 1. Furthermore, the same date represents the deadline for the United States to approve the budget and avoid a government shutdown, which could interrupt the renewal process, pushing it past the deadline.
These agreements are extremely important because they guarantee access to some U.S. government programs, allow citizens of these countries to live, work, and study in the United States without visas, and provide hundreds of millions in funding. In return, the United States guarantees unhindered access to these countries’ strategic waters and air corridors. Negotiations to secure these agreements are still ongoing, and US officials have said they are aware of the risks and challenges, underscoring the urgent need to reach a strong agreement quickly.
Ultimately, renewed American engagement with Pacific island nations has significant geopolitical implications, especially in the context of competition between the United States and China. The outcome of the ongoing negotiations and the ability to renew key agreements will have far-reaching consequences for the stability of the region and the balance of influence between the major global players. The Biden administration cannot afford to make mistakes, also because the electoral test is approaching.
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