The US-Pacific Islands summit began in Washington, which, according to the White House, should demonstrate a “deep and lasting partnership” between the States and these countries. The fact that President Joe Biden is gathering island leaders for the first time in the American capital speaks to Washington’s desire to take action against China’s growing influence in the region. However, even before the start of the meetings scheduled for September 28-29, it became clear that the plans had somewhat diverged from reality. The summit began with a scandal, as some states have already refused to sign the final declaration proposed by the US.
For the first time, the leaders of the 12 Pacific island nations have been invited to a summit in Washington, where they begin their bilateral and joint talks with President Joe Biden.
The idea to gather everyone in the American capital arose for a reason – the United States is extremely concerned about the increased activity of China in the region and thus decided to seize the initiative from Beijing.
How declared on the White House website, the summit “will showcase the deep and enduring partnership of the United States with the Pacific island nations and the Pacific region, founded on shared history, values, and people-to-people bonds.” Washington is confident that these meetings will reflect “widening and deepening cooperation” on climate change, combating COVID-19, economic recovery, security, environmental protection and promoting “freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region.”
However, before all the guests had time to reach Washington, it turned out that problems could arise with the deepening and expansion of the partnership.
As the British wrote The Guardian, “U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with the Pacific Islands were dealt a major blow on the eve of the summit.” The newspaper found that the Solomon Islands had rejected a draft declaration proposed by the US, and that the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands and Palau had expressed serious concerns about “insufficient” financial assistance to the region.
A leaked memo written by the Solomon Islands embassy in the United States said the state, which signed a security deal with China in April, would not support a regional diplomatic deal that Washington is proposing.
“Solomon Islands is unable to adopt a declaration this week and it will take time to consider the declaration,” the letter to the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat reads. As The Guardian clarified, the Solomon Islands insist on further discussions of the proposed document, which means that it will definitely not be signed quickly.
This turn of events has put the United States in a position where the stated goal of this summit to give a powerful response to China’s activity in the region seems to be at odds with the reality. Washington hoped that the declaration would be accepted by Pacific leaders and signed at the summit. However, according to a source involved in the talks with The Guardian, the leaders of these countries were supposed to meet on Tuesday in New York to discuss the document drawn up by the United States, but the negotiations broke down due to the refusal of the Solomon Islands.
The 11-point U.S.-Pacific Partnership Declaration commits the island nations and the U.S. to work together “in the face of a worsening climate crisis and an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment,” writes The Guardian, citing the draft document.
At the same time, the declaration does not describe exactly how the United States intends to deepen and expand cooperation. It is quite general in nature and sets out the general principles of cooperation in order to combat climate change, accelerate economic growth, protect the Pacific Ocean and promote peace and security. In other words, the document does not contain any specific promises to the Pacific countries.
This declaration is very different from the sweeping regional economic and security agreement that China invited 10 Pacific nations to sign earlier this year.
The document proposed by Beijing was much better developed than the American one. It outlines specific amounts, offers detailed programs, and even stipulates the number of participants in cultural exchanges. The adoption of this document could lead to a serious expansion of China’s participation in security activities in the region, including police training, cooperation in combating crime and cybersecurity. But so far, Pacific leaders are in no hurry to sign an agreement.
Meanwhile, in the first paragraph of its document, the United States expresses its commitment to the “timely and successful completion of negotiations” on free association with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Washington already has corresponding agreements with each of these states, according to which the States provide them with financial assistance in exchange for obligations in the defense sphere, but with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, the agreements expire next year. In the draft declaration, the US called free association “one of the cornerstones of US-Pacific cooperation” and committed itself to “adequately consider and meet the priority needs of these three countries.” However, as The Guardian found out, the ambassadors of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to Kurt Campbell, the coordinator of the US National Security Council for the Indo-Pacific region, one of Joe Biden’s senior foreign policy advisers. In this letter, they expressed concern about Washington’s proposals.
“The current assistance offered does not match the contribution of our islands to the security and stability of the region… The economic assistance offered by the US seems to be based on insufficient analysis… Simply put: US economic assistance is not enough.”
And although the ambassadors of the three Pacific countries stated that the States were and remain the main ally of these states, many questions arose about the drafted declaration, as well as about individual agreements on free association. The main fears of the islanders are related to climate change and the danger of going under water. They are confident that the current volume of assistance will not be enough to prevent a catastrophe.
While Micronesian presidential spokesman Richard Clarke said that the US, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the FSM are a “healthy family” within which “delicate issues are frankly discussed,” the mere fact of leaks of information about such issues clearly does not speak in favor of the US aspirations to demonstrate – First of all, to China – its unconditional leadership in the Pacific region. One way or another, according to Reuters, Joe Biden will promise “many dollars” to the island states within two days and try to convince them to stay on the side of the United States in this new field of geopolitical confrontation. However, the agency wrote, some countries in the region have repeatedly made it clear that they do not want to be victims of a “battle for the influence of two superpowers.”