The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden vowed Wednesday to strengthen ties with Pacific island nations through an enhanced diplomatic presence and climate crisis support as part of its first strategy specifically focused on the region.
The move comes as the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit is set to be held in Washington for two days from Wednesday, in another effort by the Biden administration to step up regional engagement in the face of China's expanding influence.
Leaders from countries such as Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and the Solomon Islands are expected to be among participants in what the White House calls the first-ever summit of its kind in the U.S. capital, according to an administration official.
China's recent outreach to the Pacific island nations, most notably its signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, has raised concerns among the United States and its allies that the deal may lead to China establishing a military presence to the north of Australia.
The Solomon Islands already signaled a tilt toward China when it switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.
Under its "U.S. Pacific Island Strategy," the Biden administration laid out four objectives, including pursuing a "strong" partnership and a "resilient" region prepared for the climate crisis and other challenges, according to the official.
Toward that end, the Biden administration will expand the number of U.S. diplomatic missions from six to nine across the Pacific and support investment in climate mitigation.
The United States will also increase U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense presence, while also working with other allies and like-minded countries such as Japan, Australia and Britain to enhance support for Pacific island nations to better meet the needs of the local people, the official added.
The U.S. Pacific Island Strategy is designed to complement the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy, which was released in February this year. The broader strategy also includes plans to build closer ties with Pacific islands such as through the opening of new embassies and expanded U.S. Coast Guard presence.