Pacific island nation leaders welcome US pledge to triple regional funding According to Reuters


© Reuters. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks remotely on a video screen during the Pacific Islands Forum at the Grand Pacific Hotel, in Suva, Fiji July 13, 2022. REUTERS / Kirsty Needham


By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Pacific island leaders welcomed a U.S. commitment to triple aid to the region to combat illegal fishing, boost maritime security and deal with change climate, after decades of stalled US funding.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, in a video speech at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva on Wednesday, said US funding for Pacific islands would triple to 60 million dollars a year for a decade, subject to congressional approval.

Several Pacific leaders are seeking to balance China’s ambitions with trade and security relationships in the region.

Harris called on nations to “unite” as the bad guys sought to undermine the rules-based international order, without naming them.

“We recognize that in recent years the islands in the Pacific may not have received the attention and diplomatic support you deserve,” she said.

The Pacific leaders gathered for the four-day forum see climate change as a key security issue for the region, but tensions between China and the United States, and Kiribati’s sudden withdrawal from the forum , is also being discussed.

“It really shows that the United States is back and wants to play an active role,” Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr said after Harris’s speech.

“Sometimes because of our remoteness, we are forgotten, so this is very important,” he told Reuters.

The forum will discuss China’s attempt to sign a trade and security agreement with 10 countries with ties to China, which is opposed by some members.

Palau has defense ties with the United States, diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and economic ties with China.

“The sky is the limit with opportunities for China. That competition sometimes creates security concerns. We lived through World War II and we don’t want to see that again.” he said.

The United States is concluding negotiations over a renewed fishing treaty with Pacific island nations that has allowed U.S. ships to fish in its exclusive economic zone for decades and is providing more support for maritime surveillance in the Pacific.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the fishing pact gave the US a platform to “balance” strategic weaknesses in the Pacific.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was important that the United States was stepping up its support, including with new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga.

“We welcome the Biden administration’s increased presence in the region, adding that strategic competition is the backdrop for the conference,” he said.

The Solomon Islands, a party to the United States’ fishing treaty with the Pacific, recently reached a security agreement with China, much to the concern of the United States and its allies, although Honiara said it would not permit the construction of a naval base.

Palau’s Minister of Fisheries, Steven Victor, said tourism and fisheries are the nation’s sole source of revenue, and US funding has remained stagnant for 20 years.

Kiribati, also dependent on fishing, reached seafood deals with China after shifting diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, a month after the forum last met face-to-face. .

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry told a news conference on Monday that “China has enjoyed good cooperation with the Pacific Island Forum for many years.”

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