Pacific islands come together as Beijing and Washington watch

On the front line between the United States and China in the Pacific, a new pawn oscillates. Located in the middle of the ocean, Kiribati, with its huge maritime economic zone bordering the United States and its Chinese investments (Beijing acquired the island state’s only airstrip in 2021), announced , Monday, July 11, leaving the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). However, Washington was counting on this regional organization of which its close allies, Australia and New Zealand, belong to counter Beijing’s expansionism. The eighteen countries of the Forum are meeting until Thursday in Suva, capital of Fiji.

Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific coordinator, clearly stated on June 23 in Washington that “strongly support regionalism in the Pacific, especially through existing institutions such as the PIF”, was one of the priorities. In 2021, Joe Biden was the first president to address this forum, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured the islands to update US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region in Fiji. .

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On Tuesday July 12, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, put a new project on the table. She announced to the FIP states the appointment of a first “American special envoy”, as part of a brand new “national strategy on the Pacific islands”. But also negotiations to open two embassies, in Kiribati and Tonga – after that of the Solomon Islands, relocated in February. the “US Fund for Economic Development and Ocean Resilience” will be tripled, she also promised, to reach 600 million dollars (about 599 million euros) in ten years, if Congress approves. And the United States Agency for International Development will return to Fiji.

“A failure for the United States”

During the intervention of Harris, by videoconference, the police expelled two Chinese defense attachés who had mingled with journalists in the square reserved for the press, noted the Guardian.

“Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo wanted the PIF to work because he fears China. The withdrawal of Kiribati, after that of the Marshall Islands, shows that these two countries maintain good relations with her., decodes Cleo Paskal, a Canadian researcher specializing in the sector. The fragile regional organization, “perceived as a bureaucracy that serves the needs of the great powers first”has done nothing concrete in the major recent regional crises, underlines Mme Paskal: Covid-19, the Solomon riots, the natural disaster that devastated Tonga, and the governance difficulties of the University of the South Pacific, managed by twelve countries in the region. “It is a failure for the United States, which presented the forum as an entry point for American policy in the region. It is also a failure for Australia and New Zealand, which no longer have a hold. »

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