Global geopolitics surrounding the Pacific Islands is heating up once again. United States President Joe Biden hosted the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders at the White House in September 2023. It was the second US-PIF Summit in Washington DC.
There, the leaders jointly underscored their partnership and priorities in accordance with the Pacific Islands Forum's 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent. The PIF is the apex of the Pacific regional architecture. Moreover, it is the principal driver of regional priority setting and resource allocation.
US Diplomatic Ties with the Cook Islands and Niue
The US has recognized two new Pacific Islands with whom Washington has not previously had diplomatic relations in the past. They are the Cook Islands and Niue. In addition, the US opened an embassy in Vanuatu in early 2024. Also, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) opened its own new regional Pacific mission in Fiji. These are vital indicators of the region gaining priority in the US perspectives on the Pacific.
The Pacific Island nations attending the US-PIF Summit included Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Australia and New Zealand also attended. It was a significant meeting that collectively pushed for a shared vision of a resilient Pacific region of peace, prosperity, and security. Other shared goals include enhancing awareness of the management of maritime domains as well as seeking to strengthen democratic institutions through transparency and accountability.
Climate Change and Disaster Risk
Once again, the US-PIF Summit highlighted the conceptual tenets of geostrategy and regionalism. The PIF leaders welcomed the United States' renewed commitment to the entire Pacific Islands region. They also agreed to maintain this partnership by means of holding biennial political engagements.
Most pressingly, addressing climate change and disaster risk are priority issues impacting the Blue Pacific region. The Pacific Island nations are dealing with multiple challenges. These include tackling the climate crisis and achieving economic growth. But they also encompass promoting sustainable development, strengthening health security, and countering illegal and unreported fishing.
While these are being worked upon, the US Peace Corps has arrived in many of the islands. Indeed, they have served served many of these same islands in the past. The role that the Peace Corps plays in terms of supporting territorial integrity and issues associated with fishing rights remains vital. This is especially true when it comes to monitoring the vast oceanic spaces and enforcing the law at sea.
The Role of G7
The Pacific region is making efforts to secure assistance to achieve its development aspirations. This is where the G7 needs to prioritize its efforts in line with the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy 2020–2025. Priorities should include investments in infrastructure for safe and secure communications, access to information, and cybersecurity arrangements, among others.
Such initiatives would enable business, education, and digital connectivity for the Pacific people. Besides, in accordance with the Boe Declaration, the region's human security, environmental and resource security, tackling transnational crime, and cybersecurity are also critical sectors. These, however, require assistance through capacity-building and operational efforts. In turn, they will also aid in promoting the rule of law. And beyond that, they will strengthen border security and maritime law enforcement.
Many of the Pacific Island nations have reached a point of endangering their strategic autonomy. This is owing to heavy debts incurred from China. At such a time, the United States' commitment to shared regional priorities and extending cooperation to the Pacific Island countries is a much-needed step.
China's expanding economic footprint is almost immediately followed by its political interference. The PRC has assertively pressed its influence this region. In turn, this has been a prompted the US, its allies, and partners to recalibrate and sustain their strategic focus.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Britain, Germany, Canada, and others coordinate closely as partners of the Blue Pacific engagement hosted by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Their aim is to step up their individual and collective engagement across the Pacific region. Crucially, this includes providing secure undersea cable connectivity for the Pacific Island nations to ensure Internet connectivity with the rest of the world.
Quad Role Advancing Maritime Domain Awareness
In all, the G7 countries have historic relations and strategic interests in the region. This history has helped as they step up their game considerably in the Indo-Pacific. Interestingly, the Quad grouping is also a factor. As part of the G7 Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, the Quad is helping the Pacific Islands with a program worth more than $10 million USD.
Moreover, it will be the first official partnership between the Quad and a Pacific Island institution. Importantly, it will work closely with the Pacific Islands institutions while helping to improve maritime domain awareness. The program was announced by the Quad in May 2022. It prioritizes help for the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean (South Asia) region.
The G7 is the antidote to China that will ensure that regional good governance and democratic institutions across the Pacific remain accountable and transparent. This in turn will guarantee the region's inclusive, sustainable, and equitable development and security.
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Author: Dr Monika Chansoria
Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter).