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Summit treats Pacific island countries as pawns: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-25 20:59

The US-Pacific Island Forum Summit US President Joe Biden is hosting in Washington on Monday and Tuesday is the second such gathering. It has apparently failed to fire the same enthusiasm among the Pacific island countries as the first.

Not only have the leaders of two major countries in the region — Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman — skipped the summit, but even some of the other non-US participants seem lukewarm about the event.

After the first summit, the White House said the United States would invest more than $810 million in expanded programs to aid the Pacific islands. However, Congress has still to approve the funds. Yet what the Pacific island countries have received posthaste is diktats from the US, with visiting officials of the Biden administration telling them the dos and don'ts.

White House "Indo-Pacific" coordinator Kurt Campbell and the State Department's top officials for Asia visited the Solomon Islands in April last year, urging it to reconsider the cooperation pact it had signed with China. They visited the country again in March this year for the same purpose. Last month, two Republicans from the US House of Representatives, one being a member of the select committee on strategic competition with China, met with opposition leaders in the Solomon Islands, seeking to cultivate pro-US proxies.

That the high-level interagency mechanism the US Department of State has set up for the US' aid to the region mainly comprises officials of the National Security Council and the Department of Defense speaks volumes of the fact that infrastructure aid is only a cover for the US' true intention of excluding China from the region. For example, Kiribati, one of the most remote Pacific island states, 4,000 kilometers southwest of Hawaii, is still using an airstrip built during the World War II. But when it said this year it plans to upgrade it with Chinese assistance, the US tried to block the project.

And when the Pacific island countries were in a dire need of essential medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US was deaf and blind. Yet it is quick to respond whenever it sees China extending a helping hand to countries in the region or hears of it planning to do so.

Nor should it be forgotten that the US has not yet fulfilled its responsibility to compensate the losses of the Marshall Islands caused by its hundreds of nuclear tests in the region in the 1940s and 1950s. That is in sharp contrast with the efficiency and zeal of Washington renewing agreements this year with Palau and Micronesia that give it exclusive military access to strategic parts of the Pacific.

For the US, the Pacific island countries are simply pawns to be played in its geopolitical games. If the US truly cared about their development as Biden claims, it would not only honor the pledges of assistance it made at the first summit but also repay its historical debt.

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