President Joe Biden is pulling out all the stops to woo leaders of Pacific island nations in a bid to counter China’s expanding influence in the region. The summit of leaders from the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum, taking place Monday and Tuesday in Washington, aims to strengthen ties and offer incentives ranging from American football experiences to new embassies.
Senior administration officials reveal that President Biden will unveil a more assertive U.S. stance in the region, including funding for infrastructure projects and enhanced maritime cooperation to combat illegal fishing. The Pacific Islands Forum brings together states and territories scattered across the vast Pacific Ocean, from Australia to sparsely populated micro-states and archipelagos.
While Biden’s focus is on bolstering U.S. engagement in the region, China’s influence looms large. The absence of the Solomon Islands’ prime minister, closely aligned with Beijing, underscores this influence. Manasseh Sogavare, who recently attended the UN General Assembly in New York, opted not to extend his stay in the United States, a move met with disappointment by the White House.
One of the key objectives of the summit is to renegotiate the “Compacts of Free Association” with the Marshall Islands before the current terms expire. These agreements, also held with Micronesia and the Palau archipelago, grant the United States a military presence on the islands in exchange for economic assistance and security guarantees. The Marshall Islands is seeking to ensure that any new agreement accounts for the long-lasting effects of Washington’s nuclear testing program there in the 1940s and 50s.
The Biden administration hopes to announce significant progress in these negotiations. To make the summit more enticing, President Biden has organized a packed program, beginning with an American gridiron experience. Leaders will travel by train to Baltimore, where they’ll attend an NFL game.
Monday’s schedule includes meetings and a lunch with President Biden, while Tuesday brings discussions with top officials on climate and the economy, as well as meetings with U.S. lawmakers. The United States will also announce the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands and Niue, alongside funding for undersea telecommunications cables and the opening of new embassies in the Pacific region.
Additionally, the White House plans to propose that Pacific island states join the “Quad,” a defense cooperation forum that includes the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan, with a focus on maritime surveillance, particularly tracking vessels involved in illegal fishing activities.