US announces $810 million in new funding for Pacific Islands at summit

September 30 ------ The United States announced $810 million in new funding for Pacific Islands at a summit with President Joe Biden amid inroads by China in the strategic but sparsely populated region.

The White House said $600 million will be in the form of a 10-year package to clean up dirty waters to support the tuna industry, while the United States will also expand climate assistance, development aid and its diplomatic presence. Biden addressed a first-ever Washington summit of Pacific Island nations, including 12 heads of state or government, in hopes of using a personal touch to reconnect with a region that has been tied closely to the United States since World War II. With the United States often seen as taking the region for granted, China has asserted itself strongly in recent years through investment, police training and, most controversially, a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

The Biden administration also announced that the United States would recognize Cook Islands and Niue, a self-governing territory whose foreign and defense policies and currency are linked to New Zealand. The step will allow the United States to increase its diplomatic presence in the Cook Island and Niue, which have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants but constitute a sprawling economic zone in the South Pacific. Launching a new strategy for engagement, Biden also designated a veteran US ambassador in the region, Frankie Reed, as the first-ever US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. The United States recently announced the restoration of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, amid the heavy presence of China, and the White House said that US embassies would also open in Tonga and Kiribati.

The US Agency for International Development will open a Pacific regional mission in Fiji by September 2023 and Peace Corps volunteers will return to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu and possibly the Solomon Islands, the White House said.