The US is looking to reengage in a region where China is steadily expanding its influence.
The United States says it has agreed a partnership with the Pacific islands that offers the possibility of “big dollar” aid to a region where China is expanding its influence.
US President Joe Biden is hosting leaders and representatives from 14 island nations for a two-day summit at the White House, as the country ramps up engagement in the region.
The Washington Post cited US officials as saying the Biden administration will announce it will invest more than $860 million in expanded programs to help the islands, up from the $1.5 billion provided over the past decade.
All visiting leaders, including Solomon Islands President Manasseh Sogavre, have agreed to the 11-point statement. Sogaware, who has moved closer to China in recent months, was unwilling to sign, reports said on Wednesday.
The White House had no immediate comment on the funding figure, but a US official told Reuters the report was accurate.
The US is visiting Pacific island nations at a time when Beijing is becoming increasingly active in the region, offering new investments and, in the case of the Solomon Islands, security deals. Some leaders are wary of China, but it too will be caught in the middle of two superpowers.
An official who briefed reporters before the meeting acknowledged that Washington had not paid enough attention to the Pacific and would come up with new initiatives with “big-dollar numbers.”
Among the measures, the US plans to expand its diplomatic footprint in the region – opening three new missions and creating a new ambassador post at the Pacific Islands Forum, a key regional body. There are also plans to relocate the US Agency for International Development mission to Fiji.
The leaders are being feted around Washington, DC, and will have lunch in the US Congress and dinner with the president at the White House on Thursday.
Speaking to Pacific Island leaders ahead of the start of the summit, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said they had “come together around a declaration of partnership between the US and the Pacific,” which would provide a “roadmap” for their future relationship. .
Holding up a document, he said it showed the US and the Pacific Islands had “a shared vision for the future and a determination to build that future together”.
Blinken said the shared vision “recognizes that only by working together can we tackle the greatest challenges of our time, which face all of our citizens.”
He cited the climate crisis, the health emergency, promoting economic opportunity and preserving a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” where every nation, regardless of size, “has the right to choose its own path.”
Strategic competition between the Pacific islands intensified dramatically this year after China signed a security pact with the Solomons. The Pacific island nation switched formal diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 2019, which also widened domestic divisions.
For Pacific leaders, climate change is a key issue, and the talks in Washington, DC, included a session hosted by John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate.
Kerry praised regional leaders for more ambitious global climate targets than those agreed at the 2015 Paris climate summit.
“It really came down to your persistence and commitment, so I want to thank you for that. It made a world of difference,” he said.
A source familiar with the talks told Reuters that a deal on undersea cables is also likely.