Biden makes new pledges to Pacific island leaders as China’s influence grows

WASHINGTON, Sept 25 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden met Pacific island leaders for a second White House summit in just over a year on Monday, part of a charm offensive aimed at curbing inroads by China into a region Washington considers strategically crucial. Before welcoming the island leaders, gathered under the umbrella of the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Biden announced U.S. diplomatic recognition of two more Pacific islands nations, the Cook Islands and Niue. “The United States is committed to ensuring an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, prosperous, and secure. We’re committed to working with all the nations around this table to achieve that goal,” Biden said at the welcoming ceremony.

Biden pledged to work with Congress to provide $200 million more in funding for projects in the region aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, spurring economic growth, countering illegal fishing and improving public health, according to a document issued after a working lunch with the group. “These new programs and activities continue to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to work together with the Pacific Islands to expand and deepen our cooperation in the years ahead,” the document said. A joint statement said the sides agreed to hold another summit in 2025 and political engagements every two years thereafter.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, the island forum’s chair, called the summit “an opportunity … to develop our partnerships for prosperity.” He urged Washington “to actively engage at the highest level” in the 52nd PIF leaders meeting he would host in a few weeks to endorse its 2050 Strategy.


Biden hosted an inaugural summit of 14 Pacific island nations a year ago and was to meet them again in Papua New Guinea in May. That meeting was scrapped when a U.S. debt- ceiling crisis forced Biden to cut short an Asia trip. Last year, his administration pledged to help islanders fend off China’s “economic coercion” and a joint declaration resolved to strengthen their partnership, saying they shared a vision for a region where “democracy will be able to flourish.” Biden said recognizing the Cook Islands and Niue would “enable us to expand the scope of this enduring partnership as we seek to tackle the challenges that matter most to our peoples’ lives.” He highlighted a personal link to the region – an uncle killed in World War Two after crash landing off the coast of Papua New Guinea. He said the summit, as then, was “to build a better world.”

In Baltimore on Sunday, Pacific island leaders visited a Coast Guard cutter in the harbor and were briefed on combating illegal fishing by the Commandant of the Coast Guard. They also attended Sunday’s National Football League (NFL) game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. Dozens of NFL players are of Pacific Islander heritage.


Representatives of all 18 PIF members attended the summit, but not all at leader level. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who has deepened ties with China, did not attend, and a senior Biden administration official said the U.S. was “disappointed” by that. Washington appears to have made no progress on offers of substantial infrastructure funding and expanded aid to the Solomons. Sogavare visited China in July, announcing a policing agreement with Beijing that builds on a security pact signed last year.

The White House in 2022 said the U.S. would invest more than $810 million in expanded programs to aid the Pacific islands. Meg Keen, director of Pacific Island Programs at Australia’s Lowy Institute, said that although the U.S. had opened new embassies and a USAID office in the region since last year’s summit, Congress had yet to approve most of the funding pledges made last year. She added that Pacific island countries “welcome the U.S. re-engagement with the region, but don’t want geopolitical tussles to result in an escalation of militarization.”Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman also did not attend the summit. He was elected two weeks ago to replace Ishmael Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence vote for actions including signing a security pact with U.S. ally Australia.

The U.S. is still negotiating to open an embassy in Vanuatu, but has not significantly increased engagement with that nation, which counts China as its largest external creditor. China signed a policing agreement with Vanuatu last month. A senior Biden administration official said the U.S. was on track to open the Vanuatu embassy by early next year.

Fiji has welcomed the stronger U.S. regional presence as making the Pacific “more secure,” but Kiribati, one of the most remote Pacific island states, 2,500 miles (4,000km) southwest of Hawaii, said this year it plans to upgrade a former World War Two airstrip with Chinese assistance. A $29 million program to assist Kiribati youth find work internationally was signed at the summit.

Washington renewed agreements this year with Palau and Micronesia that give it exclusive military access to strategic parts of the Pacific, but has yet to do so with the Marshall Islands, which wants more money to deal with the legacy of massive U.S. nuclear testing in the 1940s and 50s. The summit statement said the U.S. “plans to work expeditiously to meet the needs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands through ongoing Compact negotiations” and was committed to addressing its “ongoing environmental, public health concerns, and other welfare concerns.”

Comment: I chose this article about Biden’s recent diplomatic recognition of the Cook Islands and Niue because it describes the growing US engagement in the Pacific. Sure, we’re going to be investing in the island nations, but we’ll also have full fledged embassies in these islands with full time diplomatic, economic and defense attache presence. The attaches will probably be accredited to several nations rather than having one in every embassy.

Where will this lead? I think there might be Coast Guard presence in the region before any military presence. The Coast Guard presence will help enforce EEZs across the area and start developing better coast guard and fishery forces in the islands. Eventually we’ll expand airport/airfield and port rights. These airfields and ports will be far more austere than Guam, Pearl Harbor or Subic Bay. But INDO-PACOM its strategy and force structure to take advantage of more austere airfields and ports. Should be interesting. Given India’s presence in the Pacific islands, I can see why we’re also pushing to court that nation.

On a more peripheral note, I see we are bringing the PBY Catalinas back. It seems  we’re looking at basically the same airframe with modern turboprop engines and advanced avionics. If we’re going to do that, why not bring back an updated China Clipper fleet. Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 sea plane is already available, but something like those Boeing 314 China Clippers would be beyond cool. 


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32 Responses to Biden makes new pledges to Pacific island leaders as China’s influence grows

  1. babelthuap says:

    I see this as a long long affair of regions dipping their toe into the tanning shelf of getting away from the US dollar. It will not happen overnight but it has started.

    Biden weaponizing the dollar was a major faux pas. Nobody likes it, even US Citizens. Horrible course of action. A price will be paid for it. Either this course is reversed soon or countries reverse their course slowly over time, inch by inch into deeper water.

    Not everyone will agree with you in this world. Kick them off your trampoline and out your backyard they are going to find another backyard and trampoline. Eventually people will have enough of your BS. That is how the world works. Most of the world does not accept same sex adoption. What is to be done? Sanction them? Most of the world? No. They will sanction you.

  2. Lesly says:

    Congress needs to have a public discussion about U.S. security commitments. Between Russia and China aspiring to acquire land through influence, loan defaults or by force, and our astronomical debt, something has to give. Musk’s squad of trust fund babies aren’t enough to fight the next global war.

  3. Laura Wilson says:

    The Obama administration had a vision for the Pacific region to counter Chinese influence. anyone remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Of course, Trump dumped it immediately….”just anther brick in the wall.” (That would be the wall of intransigence and stupidity.)

    • different clue says:

      The TPP was written to facilitate yet more outsourcing of American industry to lower cost areas. It was also written to enshrine the stranglehold of so-called “patent protection” and “intellectual property rights” on the part of certain corporate feudal business-lords. And it was also written to destroy what remained of political and economic self-governing sovereignty in American states, regions and local localities.
      The so-called ” Investor State Dispute” mechanism was the primary pre-shaped battlespace for that destruction of remaining sovereignty. The theory was that any corporation or investor-group or investor-person who wanted to invest in a “money-making” opportunity anywhere within the putative TPP area and who was blocked from opening their scum vat or sewage factory or whatever it was they wanted to open would get to take the self-protecting law-passing-or-enforcing jurisdiction to an ” Investor State Dispute” Korporate Kangaroo Kourt which would find for the investing entity and against the sovereign self-governing jurisdiction and the jurisdiction would be forced to pay to the investing entity all the money which the investing entity could convince the Korporate Kangaroo Kourt that it ” would have made ” if not prevented by that targeted jurisdiction’s self-protection law or rule or regulation.

      This was opposed by many wings of American society . . . Right, Left, and Other.

      Obama just invented the convenient last-minute excuse of “to counter China” when he saw that he and his operatives could not sell TPP on its own merits, of which it had none. His real goal all along was the further destruction of what remained of American society and economy so his upper class owners and patrons could sift through the intended wreckage for privately profitizable scrap .

      ” Keeping America out of TPP” was one of the reasons I voted for Trump against Clinton, as well as getting revenge for NAFTA, MFN for China, American membership in WTO and then Chinese membership in WTO, etc. ( As well as keeping America out of a Thermonuclear Democrat War with Russia). And Trump delivered on that promise. One hopes pro-American historians remember to thank Trump for that in the future, even while counting up all the damage Trump imposed in the meantime.

      • Razor says:

        Absolutely agree re TPP. I was outraged re it’s Euro equivalent the TTIP. A clear case of selling out to fascism; the coalescing of government & Corporations as Mussolini defined it. If for nothing else, I’ll be forever grateful to Trump for that, a man I never Chad much times for. But then, he was a politician, a US one, the worst kind.

  4. Sorry, the South Pacific is not worth a war.

    We already admitted Taiwan is part of China, and they can have it.

  5. Mark Logan says:


    It appears the US has been toying around the concept of a C130 float-plane since the 60’s. Keeps getting nixed for funding reasons though. Understandable, as the critics can point to there never having been a SOCOM mission which showed a compelling need for one yet. The Marines want it though, and won’t quit trying, IM(wild-ass)O.

    Clearly the floats would be bolt-on kits for a standard C130, I can’t imagine the military willing to dedicate whole airframes to the project, they would be useless for most conflicts. But it would be a whale of a forest fire-water dropper, that much is certain.

    • TTG says:

      Mark Logan,

      I’ll leave it to an aeronautical engineer to decide, but that C-130 with two large floats doesn’t look too practical. Redesigned as a flying boat with a C-130 style cargo bay and ramp seems more doable, more seaworthy and have better air performance. Or they can stick with MH-47Gs with KC-130 refuelers. Just make more MH-47Gs and KC-130s. They’re proven technology.

      • Mark Logan says:


        The hull has to be immensely strong to take the pounding of landing in waves at 100knts, and the pounding would have to be taken by a part of the C130 airframe which was not designed to take it. Requires a whole new and significantly heavier airframe, and new airframes are very expensive to develop. Probably the reason why they are looking at floats attached at the same point the existing C130 airframe is already very, very strong. Aerodynamically not so great, but that is compensated by being lighter overall and eliminates the need for wing-tip floats, which are hazards in rough water, and allows the ramp to function normally.

        • TTG says:

          Mark Logan,

          I will never sell a C-130 short, but the Japanese US-1 can land and take off in 10 foot seas. I think a C-130 float plane would have a hard time topping that. And the floats would have to crouch down in the water for the rear ramp to be of use.

          • Mark Logan says:

            It appears to me the concept drawings of C130 on floats would make the fuselage about the same height off the water as it would be off the ground with its wheels on. I suppose the idea is to be able to launch amphibious vehicles from it.

            I suspect the cost savings of having float kits for C130s over dedicated large flying boats will be an impossible to overcome argument with the Pentagon bean counters.

            The “10 foot seas” claim? I’ll buy that for 10 ft swells with crests 50-100 yards apart. Nothing is going to be able to land or take off in 10ft chop, save maybe the Spruce Goose.

  6. F&L says:

    Just when you thought the kids had been tucked in and were sound asleep ..

    Gen Mark Milley makes first public response to Trump comments.

  7. ked says:

    seeding the S Pacific w/ embassies & the like is pretty cost effective. after all. we ARE the global power & our long-standing regional brethren (Oz, NZ, Singapore, Taiwan, Philippines, heck, even VN) are thrilled to see us paying close attention. sure, the US can be a pain in the ass. compared to China? we’re sweethearts.

    • I am looking for the obligation for the US to be the world sweetheart in the Constitution?

      I’ll keep looking.

      • TTG says:

        Richard Murphy,

        No obligation, but the authority to establish such obligations is spelled out in Article II, Section 2.

        • Don’t ya think a declaration of war might be in order

          • TTG says:

            Richard Morchoe,

            If you’re going to war, sure. If you’re forming an alliance for trade or defense, no.

          • ked says:

            China is moving on to a phase of high unmet domestic expectations & insecurity. the style of risk for America may differ (whether the USA is strewn across the Pacific, or lounging in Pearl) but they only have themselves to blame. which means they’ll blame the USA in any case. China’s public is edging towards dissatisfaction w/ their successes as a major economic force. they have a long way yet to catch up w/ the West on that, but they’re trying hard.

          • Billy Roche says:

            Most on this site wld agree if the country is being ordered to war by the Pres a declaration of war by the congress is req’d. This shld’ve been the case in Korea, Nam, Iraq I & II and Afghanistan. Why do you think the Congress gave up its constitutional authority/responsibility to the Exec?

          • “If you’re going to war, sure. If you’re forming an alliance for trade or defense, no.”

            These alliances for trade or defense are not needed.

            We are bugging China for no good reason.

          • TTG says:

            Richard Morchoe,

            We are competing with China in the economic, political and cultural spheres as she is with us. Some of that competition is governed by international and bilateral agreements. Neither of us has resorted to outright conflict… yet.

  8. scott s. says:

    The US-2 seems like the best route forward. For our flying boats, Martin Aviation under Glenn Martin (built north of Baltimore) was key. My Dad was assigned to Fleet Air Wing 3 out of Coco Solo CZ during the war. By his time (44) the Navy had transitioned to the Martin PBM-3 Mariner as its primary anti-submarine patrol/bomber. Martin would go on to build the JRM Mars after the war. Dad did take part in a detachment (he was an aircraft engine mechanic) that was sent to Nicaragua to repair a Consolidated PB2Y Coronado that hit something in the water when landing and needed hull repairs.

    What amazes me is how wide-spread aviation tech was in those days, now collapsed down to Boeing, L-M, and Raytheon.

    • TTG says:

      scott s,

      After reading this “War on the Rocks” article, I definitely agree with you. It appears to be the most cost effective and proven way forward.

      I wondered why there was an interest in resurrecting the Catalina rather than the Mariner. I don’t see a lot of reasoning involved, perhaps just nostalgia on the program manager’s part. My only connection to such aircraft was through my 8th grade language arts teacher, Mr. Grey. He piloted an OS2U Kingfisher off the catapult of a cruiser in the Pacific. He had some great stories, especially about the time he faced off against a Zero.

      My father took us all to the Rhinebeck Aerodrome several times to see the old WWI era planes up close. Back in the day, you could build, modify and maintain a plane in a barn. Now you can’t even do that with a car. Everything is tightly controlled by sensors and a computer. I miss the days of working on my VW Bug in a parking lot. Tune by sound and feel. I even started it once with a pull cord.

  9. leith says:

    I rebuilt the engine of a 55 VW bug in the driveway one weekend back 50 plus years or so ago. No bloody knuckles unlike working on today’s cars. Worked out so well that I did the same a few months later with an MG Midget. Darn Brits used some type of impregnated rope for gaskets – kinda like door gaskets on a pot-bellied stove.

    • TTG says:


      One day in ’77, I took my ’71 Superbeetle to the Fort Shafter auto craft shop to do some serious work. I just finished pulling the engine out when SWMBO call the craft shop telling me she was in labor. I put the engine back in the car within minutes with only a little help. I fired up “Old Blue” and as I left, I got a standing ovation from everyone in the shop. I didn’t get a chance to drop the engine again until ’82 at Fort Devens. That was in my driveway and I replaced the jugs that time.

  10. “We are competing with China in the economic, political and cultural spheres as she is with us. Some of that competition is governed by international and bilateral agreements. Neither of us has resorted to outright conflict… yet.”

    So all kinds of “entangling alliances” are necessary?

    We are a broke country and need to come home.

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