President Joe Biden announced new diplomatic ties with two Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands and Niue, on Monday during the second annual Presidents’ Summit of Pacific Island Leaders at the White House.
The move is part of the administration’s focus on countering China’s influence in the region.
Biden said in a statement Monday that the new relationship with the two countries would deepen U.S. cooperation in addressing climate change, protecting maritime boundaries and marine resources, and advancing a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
A senior administration official said on a call with reporters outlining the summit that “China’s assertiveness and influence, including in this area, was a factor that should sustain our strategic focus,” the administration said. It shows that its work with “like-minded partners” can develop “viable alternatives that work for Pacific Island countries”.
The White House issued a joint statement with the 18 Pacific Island nations attending the summit on Monday, reaffirming the declaration of the US-Pacific Partnership made by the countries at last year’s summit, which aims to strengthen cooperation through trade, defense and diplomatic ties.
The partnership “outlines our shared vision for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, where individuals can achieve their potential, the environment can thrive and democracy can thrive,” the statement said on Monday.
The summit begins Monday morning with Biden welcoming leaders to the White House, followed by lunch. Later in the afternoon, John Kerry, Biden’s special envoy for climate change, will discuss the issue with leaders, a senior administration official said.
On Monday evening, Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken and United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will host a dinner at the State Department expected to recognize the Cook Islands and Niue diplomatically.
The summit continues on Tuesday, when Kerry will host a breakfast with USAAgency for International Development chief Samantha Power, Pacific Island leaders and the philanthropic community to further discuss climate change. The visiting leaders will also meet members of Congress and participate in a roundtable on trade and investment with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the senior official said.
Beyond diplomatic outreach to the Cook Islands and Niue, Biden will try to open an embassy in Vanuatu “early next year,” the senior official said. The administration will also announce multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects in Pacific island nations, including an undersea cable project to strengthen Internet connectivity, the official said.