US ‘Playing Catchup’ With China in Tussle for Influence in Pacific – Biden Envoy

Two people sit on the beach and watch the CSCL Mars container ship of the China Shipping company (File)InternationalIndiaAfricaAfter Beijing signed several agreements with almost a dozen Pacific Island nations during the visit by foreign minister Wang Yi to the region in the summer of 2022, Washington recognized the need to “up its game”, pledging to “expand its footprint” to offset China’s growing sway.The US has some “catching up” to do with China in the ongoing jostling for influence in the region of the Pacific Islands, a Biden administration envoy, Joseph Yun, was cited as telling an American think-tank based in Washington, DC.

“Let’s face it – it is strategic competition between China and us. We’re playing a little bit of catch up, but we need to accelerate our catch up,” Yun told the Hudson Institute.

Yun, special envoy for negotiations with Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, touted the newly conceived US plans to boost engagement with the region to offset China’s assertiveness.Washington reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands earlier this year, and, according to Yun, intended to allocate around $6.5Bln, spread over two decades, to various parts of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.“It’s about more than money,” quipped Yun, saying that “many Marshallese and Micronesians… mostly want to live in the US,” indicating the allegedly historically strong ties between America and the region.Besides funneling money, Yun added that military strategy was inherently part-and-parcel of the push to maintain influence in the region, saying:

“So in any kind of competition with China, it is crucial that we put up the fence and continue to make sure that we have a fence that we can defend, we can project force.”

AsiaUS Challenges China’s Influence Over Pacific Island Countries, But Does It Have Much to Offer?13 July 2022, 14:51 GMTThe US has been racing against time to reassert itself regarding influence over the strategically located island nations. Washington has been providing economic assistance to Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, in exchange for military cooperation under the Compacts of Free Association series of treaties. But with the assistance package for the Marshall Islands and Micronesia set to expire this year, and Palau’s running out in 2024, the US is looking to renew these pacts by late May, a US State Department official was cited as saying.Weighing in on China’s growing sway in the region of the small Pacific island nations, Adm John Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:”War is not inevitable, and it’s not imminent. However, this decade presents a period of increased risk.” US Pledges $60 Million For Pacific Islands, ‘Expands Footprint’ to Offset China’s Growing Sway13 July 2022, 09:30 GMTThe US has expedited its engagement with Pacific nations since June 2022, opening up more diplomatic offices and funding climate change measures. Washington’s pledges launched last year to triple aid to Pacific island nations to curb China’s influence in a region rich in minerals, hydrocarbons, fish, and located in proximity to strategically important sea lanes come as Beijing has made considerable headway in developing its relations with the Pacific Islands.Last year, for example, Beijing offered a draft agreement between China and 10 island nations spanning policing, security, fisheries, data, and a free-trade zone. Although some Pacific leaders agreed to consider China’s trade and security pact, others voiced concerns that their rapprochement with Beijing could antagonize Washington. Before that, in mid-April, the Chinese and the Solomon Islands governments formally signed a bilateral security agreement regardless of the displeasure voiced by the US, Australia, and New Zealand. Earlier, in 2019, the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.Commenting on the pact on 3 June, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasizsed that its purpose was “to assist the Solomon Islands in maintaining social order”. He vehemently denied Western media speculation about China’s apparent plans to beef up its military presence in the region.”China has come to the South Pacific region to build roads and bridges and improve the people’s lives, not to station troops or build military bases,” Wang highlighted.

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