US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host Blue Pacific (PBP) partners on Thursday to better coordinate aid to the region in the face of competition from China, a White House official said. The group was formed in June and includes the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. India has observer status at the PDB, White House Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said in remarks at an event in New York. Several other countries would also join, he said.
Campbell said the circumstances for Pacific Island countries were “much worse” than in the past. “Their livelihoods are at risk,” he said, pointing to the “existential” threat faced by climate change and the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism and business income. “A lot of aid in the Pacific is not as well coordinated as it could be. We haven’t learned as much about best practices. We will try to do that as we move forward, building on existing Pacific institutions and commitments.” Some different countries would do more diplomatically in the Pacific “in terms of trade prospects and aid and assistance,” Campbell added.
He said the increased engagement had an “undeniable strategic component”. “In the last few years we have seen a more ambitious China trying to develop its footprints militarily in the Indo-Pacific region…which has caused some concern for partners like Australia and New Zealand, even countries in the region as a whole.”
The Blue Pacific event, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, comes ahead of a September 28-29 summit US President Joe Biden plans to hold with Pacific island leaders, which Campbell said reflects “a desire to demonstrate clearly”. our greater commitment to the Pacific going forward.”
He said Washington did not want the region to enter a “zero-sum” competition and looked forward to talks with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavar and his delegation. “We are going to step up our game in terms of supporting various initiatives across the Pacific that will also positively impact the Solomons,” he said. “But we’ve also been clear about what our concerns are, and we wouldn’t want to see a long-range energy projection capacity.”
The competition between the US and China for influence in the Pacific islands intensified this year after China signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands, prompting warnings of a militarization of the region. Pacific island leaders said this month that Washington should embrace their priorities and make climate change not superpower competition the most pressing security challenge.