HomeAsiaUS promises Pacific island nations a big boost in economic aid

US promises Pacific island nations a big boost in economic aid

The United States plans more than U.S. $800 million in assistance to Pacific island nations over a decade, the White House announced on Thursday, as Washington seeks to counter China’s greater influence in the region.

The commitments are part of a flurry of announcements as the Biden administration holds a two-day summit in Washington with leaders of small island states in the Pacific. 

“The United States has directly provided over $1.5 billion to support the Pacific Islands over the past decade and today has announced over $810 million in additional expanded programs,” it said. “These initiatives seek to improve the lives and wellbeing of all Pacific Islanders.” 

The new aid package requires approval from Congress and includes a previously flagged $600 million of economic assistance tied to a U.S. tuna treaty with Pacific nations that gives fishing rights to American vessels, according to a document released by the White House.

On top of plans to expand the U.S. diplomatic presence in the Pacific, the U.S. said that USAID will establish a regional mission in Fiji by September next year. Another development agency, Peace Corps, will return to the region, starting with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.

The U.S. government simultaneously released a Pacific strategy document that echoes many of the issues Pacific nations have called attention to, including the threat of rising sea levels and illegal fishing.

The summit is meant to show a deeper U.S. commitment to a vast and economically lagging region, which over the past two decades has increasingly turned to China to meet its development needs, officials and analysts said.

Concerns in Washington about China’s influence in the region were amplified after Beijing inked a security pact with the Solomons Islands five months ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, speaking at the opening of the summit on Wednesday, said Pacific nations had agreed to the text of a declaration of partnership with the United States. 

Henry Puna, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, an important regional institution, said the summit had made a “great start.” Trade and economic discussions were “productive,” Puna said on Twitter. 

The Pacific strategy document reiterated that the United States intends to open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, where Washington has lacked a full-time diplomatic presence since the early 1990s. It will also begin discussions with other Pacific countries including Tonga and Kiribati about opening embassies.

The United States says it currently has six embassies in the region.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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