Pacific island nations are eagerly awaiting the much-needed foreign aid promised by the United States, hoping they won’t have to wait another year. During a summit in Washington, President Joe Biden pledged $200 million to help the region address the challenges of climate change, peace, and security. This commitment underscores America’s concerns about China’s growing influence in the Pacific. However, the aid is still pending approval from Congress, as Biden’s economic assistance package has yet to be passed. Republicans, who want to cut US foreign aid, pose a potential challenge to Biden’s Pacific plan.
At the summit, Biden emphasized the need for closer collaboration with Pacific leaders on issues such as artificial intelligence and global supply chain resilience. Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta attended the summit and highlighted the importance of funding for climate change, fishing disputes, and maritime security. However, Pacific Islands Forum members have yet to receive the promised support, leading to frustration among government officials who question the delay.
Biden’s proposed budget also includes over $7 billion to extend the Compact of Free Association (COFA) deals with Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. These agreements grant the US military basing rights in exchange for economic support and security. However, the uncertainty surrounding the funding of COFA deals raises concerns about the long-term commitment of the US to the Pacific Partnership Strategy.
While Congress deliberates on the aid package, Biden faces other pressing challenges. The recent funding deal reached by Congress did not include additional financial support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces. Additionally, the indictment of Senator Bob Menendez, a close ally of Biden, on federal charges further complicates matters. Moreover, a diplomatic row between Canada and India over the death of a Sikh activist adds to the president’s concerns, as he aims to strengthen ties with India in countering China in the Indo-Pacific region.
While aid is crucial for the Pacific island nations, their leaders also seek better business opportunities. Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea, who attended the summit, highlighted the region’s vast resources and called for access to low-cost infrastructure financing and the Green Climate Fund. He emphasized the Pacific countries’ desire to process their natural resources into finished products and sell them in US and Asian markets.
The US government has expressed its commitment to renewing ties and delivering on promises made to the Pacific. Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, the special assistant to the president, emphasized that this commitment is not solely about countering China but also about fulfilling obligations made in the past. The US intends to provide financial support for climate adaptation in the Pacific and offer loans to small businesses to boost the region’s economies.
As the Pacific island nations await the promised aid, they hope to see tangible progress soon. The delay in Congress’s approval of the aid package raises concerns about the US’s commitment to the region. However, Biden’s administration remains determined to deliver on its promises and strengthen ties with the Pacific nations, not only to counter China’s influence but also to support the region’s development and resilience.