Joe Biden endorses free and open Indo-Pacific after key Pacific Islands summit

US President Joe Biden on Saturday endorsed a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, stressing that it shall be stable and prosperous, resilient and secure as he delivered a speech whilst hosting the leaders from the Pacific Island countries. A great deal of the history of the world would be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years and decades, Biden said, adding that the Pacific Islands are a critical voice in shaping the globe’s future. 

The US President committed to deepening the enduring partnership with the Pacific Islands countries, saying that America and the region shared a common future and goals. He pledged to tackle the climate crisis in the region, which he noted, “threatens all of us.” He categorically stressed that his administration made it a priority to strengthen partnerships with the Pacific Islands Forum.

Washington, said Biden, launched the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative this year with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to more effectively coordinate with the allies and partners in the Blue Pacific and instate the rules-based free and open international order. The initiative will ensure continued support for prosperity, resilience, and security in the Pacific, the US president iterated. 

Biden with leaders of the Pacific Islands countries. Credit: AP

Among the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) members, Australia and New Zealand are of the region and members of the Pacific Islands Forum; Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States are founding Dialogue Partners. The US also approved a combined $2.1 billion in development assistance for the region to support Pacific priorities, in line with the Pacific Islands Forum’s upcoming 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. The PBP is aimed at forging closer ties with Pacific governments and with the Pacific Islands Forum, by facilitating stronger and more regular engagement between the governments to bolster Pacific regionalism.

“We’re also announcing more than $810 million in expanded US programs to improve the lives of Pacific Islanders, which includes more than $130 million in new investments to support climate resilience and to build sustainable blue economies in the Pacific Islands; prepare for climate impacts on public health and food security, and to strengthen sustainable development; and also to build a better early warning capacity to predict, prepare for, and respond to climate hazards,” Biden said. 

Head of the government of Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and New Caledonia participated in the two-day summit that Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted. Vanuatu and Nauru sent representatives, and Australia, New Zealand and the secretary-general of the Pacific Island Forum sent observers, the White House said in a statement. 

Credit: AP

$810mn in funding for Pacific Islands

In an effort to snub China’s overreach, the United States this week formally committed to implementing the Declaration on US-Pacific Partnership, a forward-looking vision statement that reflected the two sides’ shared interest to expand and deepen regional cooperation. Biden administration launched a new diplomatic initiative — the Pacific Partnership Strategy—pledging an estimated $810 million in new funding for Pacific Island countries to tackle various issues including climate change, defence, maritime security, and economic development. 

Washington, earlier this year, had formally declared at least seven commitments to Pacific Islands Forum leaders— four of the initiatives were fundamentally aid programs, and the two were aimed at expanding United States’ diplomatic presence in the region. One of the commitments involves including the Pacific Islands in the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.

At the first-ever United States-Pacific Island Country Summit hosted on Sep 29, the Biden-Harris administration announced scores of initiatives, including added funding under $1.5 billion to support the Pacific Islands countries and over $810 million in additional expanded programs. It also declared that the US will recognise the New Zealand realm Cook Islands and Niue as “sovereign states” in a historic move  “following appropriate consultations”. 

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