WASHINGTON, United States (Agence France-Press)—The United States plans to propose a new initiative to address Pacific island issues next week as it scrambles to offset China’s thrust into the region, a top White House official said Thursday.
Washington is “stepping up across the board” its engagement with Pacific island nations to address their concerns over everything from relations with Washington to illegal fishing, climate change and regional security, said Kurt Campbell, a senior official for Asia in the National Security Council.
“This is an area of enormous strategic importance. We have historical and moral responsibilities, both from the Second World War and, subsequent, the nuclear age,” Campbell told a forum held by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank.
“We are trying to meet the Pacific where they live,” he said. “Not only are we doing this on a bilateral basis, we will be launching next week an initiative to work with a variety of like-minded countries on an open, very detailed set of engagements.”
The new initiative will allow those involved, including the 18-member Pacific Island Forum, Japan and major Western powers, “to make clear our desire to keep a Pacific environment that’s open, that’s healthy, that’s productive, and free from coercion,” said Campbell.
The announcement came after China was dealt a setback when 10 Pacific island states in late May rebuffed a proposal for a regional pact that would have pulled them into Beijing’s orbit.
China had offered extensive economic assistance in exchange for a pact that would deepen its role in the regional’s security and economy.
But David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, warned the offer was “disingenuous” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and “economic control” of key industries.