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Pacific island leaders welcome U.S. pledge to triple funding for region

Some Pacific leaders are attempting to provide a compromise between China's aspirations for regional commerce and security ties.


Pacific island leaders welcome U.S. pledge to triple funding for region

SUVA, July 13 (Reuters) - After decades of stagnating U.S. funding, Pacific island leaders welcomed the country's promise to boost aid in order to fight illegal fishing, improve marine security, and combat climate change. In the Pacific Islands Forum on Wednesday in Suva, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said that, pending congressional approval, American aid to the Pacific islands would be increased to $60 million a year for a decade.

Some Pacific leaders are attempting to provide a compromise between China's aspirations for regional commerce and security ties. The Solomon Islands and China have signed a security agreement that has alarmed the United States and its allies. Without naming the negative actors attempting to undermine the international system of laws, Harris urged nations to "stand united." She acknowledged that the Pacific islands may not have received the diplomatic support and attention they deserved in recent years.

Climate change is the primary security concern for the Pacific leaders gathered for the four-day meeting, but tensions between China and the United States and Kiribati's unexpected exit from the forum are also being discussed. After Harris's address, Surangel Whipps Jr., the president of Palau, remarked, "It really demonstrates the U.S. is back and wants to play an active role." He told Reuters, "This was crucial since often we get neglected due to our remoteness.

The proposal by China to negotiate a trade and security deal with 10 countries with ties to China, which is resisted by some members, will be discussed during the conference. The PIF members Palau, which has diplomatic links with Taiwan and a defence relationship with the United States, were not included in the planned China pact, though China was active economically in the country, according to Whipps Jr. "The opportunities in China are virtually endless. Sometimes, this competitiveness raises security-related questions. We experienced World War II, and we don't want to go through it again "he added.

The United States is wrapping up talks with Pacific island nations on a new fishing agreement that will continue to allow American boats to fish in their exclusive economic zones for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the United States is providing more support for maritime surveillance in the Pacific. According to Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji, the fisheries pact gave the US a platform to "balance" its geopolitical disadvantages in the Pacific.

Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia, stressed the significance of the United States' increased assistance, which includes opening new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga. The strategic competition was the backdrop for the conference, he added, adding that "we very much welcome the Biden administration's heightened engagement in the region." The Fijian navy's headquarters, the Fiji Hydrographic Office, and the Fiji Maritime Surveillance Coordination Centre will be housed in the $83 million maritime domain awareness centre that Australia and Fiji stated they will construct there. Defence personnel would collaborate on the initiative, according to Albanese, which would protect local fishing industries, create jobs locally, and be "essential for our security collaboration."

Steven Victor, Palau's minister of fisheries, claimed that the country's primary sources of income were fishing and tourism and that American support had been flat for 20 years. A month after the last in-person meeting of the conference, Kiribati, which is likewise heavily dependent on fishing, signed fisheries agreements with China after transferring diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing. A representative for the Chinese foreign ministry stated during a news conference on Monday that "China has long had a strong cooperation with the Pacific Island Forum."

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pacific-island-leaders-welcome-us-pledge-triple-funding-region-2022-07-13/

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