President Joe Biden on Thursday will host leaders attending the first Pacific Island summit this week as part of the administration’s effort to increase U.S. engagement and investments in the region.
Biden will also host a dinner with the leaders, many of whom are making their first visits to the White House, a senior administration official said.
The White House released a U.S.-Pacific Island strategy Thursday, which complements an earlier release of the administration’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy and outlines the president’s desire for a “unified government effort on Pacific issues,” the official told reporters in a call previewing the summit. The summit and strategy comes as the U.S. seeks to counter China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.
“The purpose of this document is to make it obviously consistent with the goals and objectives of our larger framing, but this is specifically aimed at the concerns and the objectives in the Pacific as a whole,” the official said.
“We recognized that we had powerful, strategic, historical, moral, humanitarian, environmental interests across the Pacific, many good friends and supporters and allies who had been with us for decades at the United Nations and a variety of forum,” the official said. “And these are all countries that they wanted the United States to be more actively engaged.”
The administration announced Thursday that it’s providing more than $810 million to boost diplomatic engagement, efforts to fight climate change, trade relations and maritime security the Pacific Islands, which is in addition to $1.5 billion that the U.S. has given the region in the past decade. The administration also said the U.S. is set to recognize the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign countries, which would be an historic step.
The summit began Wednesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcoming Pacific island leaders at the State Department. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and climate envoy John Kerry also met with the leaders.
The official said the administration believes it has “lapsed in our efforts to engage rising leaders across the Pacific in American institutions” and is seeking to “align strategies” with the regional Blue Pacific framework. The official referenced several “daunting challenges, including climate change, Covid recovery, overfishing, education, jobs and unexploded ordnances from World War II.