Biden summons Pacific Island nations for serious talk
US President Joe Biden is set to host a meeting of Pacific Island nations to deepen cooperation on security, climate change and a range of other issues, the White House said, vowing to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The event, which officials dubbed the “first ever US-Pacific Island Country Summit,” will be held in Washington, DC on September 28 and 29, the White House announced on Friday.
“The Summit will demonstrate the United States’ deep and enduring partnership with Pacific Island countries and the Pacific region that is underpinned by shared history, values, and people-to-people ties,” it said in a statement, adding that the meeting will “reflect our broadening and deepening cooperation on key issues such as climate change, pandemic response, economic recovery, maritime security, environmental protection, and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Though it is not yet clear which Pacific nations will attend the conference, the announcement comes amid efforts by Washington to boost ties with the region. In April, senior State Department officials visited the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, where they made a number of commitments, including vows to reopen the US embassy in the Solomons, and to “advance initiatives” on climate change and healthcare in the three countries.
The US maintains diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, via a single embassy located in the capital of the latter nation, after shuttering its compound in the Solomons in 1993. Vanuatu has never had a US embassy of its own.
In June, moreover, the US joined the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to launch the ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific’ initiative, which aims to “forge closer connections with Pacific governments.”
The attempts to improve relations also follow a major security and diplomatic deal signed between the Solomons and China in April, which prompted warnings from the White House about a possible long-term Chinese military presence in the region. Beijing has denied any such intentions.
The Solomon islands recently imposed a temporary ban on all foreign naval vessels seeking to dock at its ports, after an incident on August 23 in which an American Coast Guard ship requested permission to stop and refuel but received no response. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the ban will allow the nation to review docking procedures, after US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby complained that Washington was “disappointed” at the incident.