Biden hosts Pacific island nations, but pro-Chinese absences and presences weigh heavily

Solomon Islands Prime Minister deserts after praising cooperation with Beijing

Joe Biden is hosting today the summit of leaders of the Pacific Island nations at the White Housewithin one strategy aimed at countering China’s growing presence and influence in the region. An influence that pushed the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, to abandon the appointment, after having used his speech at the General Assembly to praise Beijing’s development cooperation as “less restrictive, more reactive and aligned with needs of our nation.”

“We are sorry that he chose not to participate in this special summit”, he replied from the White House, speaking of the leader of the Solomon Islands which signed a security agreement with Beijing last year, thus provoking the immediate reaction of Washington which hastened to reopen the embassy in the country which had been closed for 30 years. Always for the same strategy, the US has opened an embassy in Tonga and is preparing to open one in Vanautu. While in the summit that opens today the opening of diplomatic representations in the Cook Islands and Nuie will be announced.

Biden and the 18 leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum will address key development issues today and tomorrow, with the US committing to greater funding for infrastructure and maritime cooperation. And obviously greater support for the fight against climate change, with Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry chairing a session on ‘Climate and Ocean Resilience’ today.

East Timor has just signed strategic cooperation with China

But it must be noted that apart from the flat rate of the Solamon Islands, there is then the location of East Timor which has just launched a strategic partnership with China. The agreement was announced when Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao attended the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in the Chinese city of Hangzhou last week. “Both sides will increase mutual support and strengthen international cooperation,” Xi said.

Already last year Jose Ramos Horta, taking office as the fifth president since the island’s independence in 2002, had committed to a closer relationship with Beijing, particularly in the fields of energy, agriculture and infrastructure. As with the Solomon Islands, East Timor’s cooperation with Beijing will take place within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Silk Road.

East Timor’s goals include starting offshore natural gas production by 2030, a project that has been stuck in limbo for decades. But there is no shortage of commitments to greater military interactions, the expansion of bilateral investments and cooperation on infrastructure and food production, according to the joint statement released on Saturday.

President of the Islands Forum: “We have become the object of competition for influence”

Biden already hosted the Pacific Islands Summit last year, attended by 14 leaders, during which the United States announced over 800 million in aid and assistance funds, reaffirming its commitment to the region’s priorities and cooperation to on climate and maritime safety. Presenting the new summit, the White House underlined that faced with “the determination and influence” of China, it is necessary to “maintain our strategic focus”.

Tonga’s prime minister, Siaosi Sovaleni, said the summit will be “an opportunity for us to share our concerns”, stressing that these are mainly focused on climate change and rising oceans. “The urgency of change is evident”, added the prime minister of Tonga, speaking last week at the Glass Palace, as he asked the US to support greater access to financing for climate action.

The secretary general of the Pacific Islands Nations Forum, Henry Puna, also expressed the hope that the summit will lead to concrete actions for the climate, recognizing that the region, forgotten at a strategic level until a decade ago, has now become strategic interest, competition and real “manipulation”, with a clear reference to the struggle for influence in the region between the United States and China.