Pacific nation leaders in Washington as US seeks to deepen ties

September 29, 2022

The US is elevating its engagement with the Pacific as Beijing increases its presence in the region.

US President Joe Biden will host leaders from the Pacific Islands this week in what the White House is billing as a first-of-its-kind regional leaders summit in Washington, amid increasing rivalry between the United States and China in the Pacific.

The two-day summit will kick off on September 28 and feature a dinner between Biden and the summit attendees.

The meeting was announced in June, soon after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a high-profile, eight-nation tour of the Pacific region that lasted 10 days.

“The goal [of the summit] is not just to listen” to Pacific leaders, “but to put substantial resources on the table,” Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell recently told the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster.

“We’ve never had Pacific Island leaders to the White House,” Campbell said.

“It is not just one or two meetings. This is a very sustained effort that will involve almost all the key players in the US government that have interests in the Indo-Pacific”, he said.

The summit is the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity by the US in the region this year. Addressing the Pacific Islands Forum, the key regional grouping, in July, Vice President Kamala Harris said the US was embarking on a “new chapter” of cooperation with the region, opening new embassies and ramping up funding and development support.

Anna Powles, a Pacific security expert at New Zealand’s Massey University, told Al Jazeera that the inaugural summit is about demonstrating the US “is engaged and committed in the Pacific”.

But she also noted that the Biden Administration’s core objective — “to secure a regional strategy between Washington and Pacific countries on shared interests” — is anything but certain.

“This is where the summit may unravel,” she warned

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