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The US will deepen engagement – VP tells PIF

The United States Vice President Kamala Harris told Pacific leaders that the region may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that they deserved.

Ms Harris addressed the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting virtually and made a commitment that the US was going to change the way they had been dealing with the Pacific.

She also followed up this commitment by reaffirming major announcements including raising the US annual funding to the region by almost US$40 million.

Ms Harris said the Pacific islands and the United States are inextricably linked.

We share deep ties between our people, and we are proud in the United States that there are 1.4 million people here that have Pacific islander heritage, many of whom reside in my home state of California,” she said.

US Vice President Kamala Harris announcing the US’s new engagement with the Pacific. Pic- Fijian Government

“We will significantly deepen our engagement in the Pacific Islands.  We will embark on a new chapter in our partnership — a chapter with increased American presence where we commit to work with you in the short and long term to take on the most pressing issues that you face.”

The United States launched the process to establish two new embassies in the region – one in Tonga and one in Kiribati. The US will also appoint the first-ever United States Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and return Peace Corps volunteers to the region.

USAID is taking steps to expand its footprint to include re-establishing a regional mission in Suva, Fiji.

Ms Harris announced that the US planned to triple its funding for economic development and ocean resilience for the Pacific islands.

“We will request from the United States Congress an increase from US$21 million per year to $60 million per year for the next 10 years. Sixty million dollars per year for the next 10 years,” she said.

Forum chair Voreqe Bainimarama and PIF general secretary Henry Puna during the virtual address by US Vice President Kamala Harris. Pic- Fijian Government

Ms Harris also stated that the US would work with the world to reduce emissions, build resilience, support adaptation, mobilise climate finance, and ensure sustainability of fisheries and marine resources.

The US’s renewed engagement with the Pacific has been interpreted by many as a response to China’s growing presence in the region.

Forum chair and Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama welcomed the announcement and said this signaled more commitment and a deepening relationship with the US.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said such engagements were an indicator that the Pacific was on the winning side.

“I hope the Pacific wins, in this sense: that we see greater development, we see a prosperous, stable, secure region where sovereignty is respected and where assistance comes with transparency and without strings attached,” she said.

“In that context, of course, we welcome US engagement with the region. We want a region that has those attributes: stability, security, respect for sovereignty and of course prosperity.

“And the US is responding to some of the things that the Pacific put to Secretary Blinken and is meeting with them. So, it’s good to see them upping their engagement.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also welcomed the deal and hoped these were signs for positive things to come.

US Vice President’s big Pacific news – 13 July 2022

The United States has announced the establishment of new embassies in the Pacific, US$60 million per year funding for ten years for climate action and ocean resilience along with the release of a first ever Pacific strategy.

The message was relayed by US vice president Kamala Harris who participated virtually in the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting at the invitation of the Forum Chair Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji.

The initial invite was for the US president Joe Biden, a message was relayed to the US government when a high level delegation made a trip to Fiji as fears grew that China was moving more strongly into the Pacific.

This looks to be the only participation from dialogue partners after the decision was taken to exclude countries that include US, China and the European Union from the meeting as the Forum attempts to solve internal issues.

The US will look to establish new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga.

“The Biden-Harris Administration recognises that our close partnership with the Pacific requires regular exchange between our governments at all levels, from our leaders to our diplomats around the world,” said a White House statement.

“To that end, the United States, subject to congressional notification, will commence discussions with Kiribati and Tonga about our interest in establishing U.S. embassies in those countries. The United States is on track to reopen its embassy in Solomon Islands.”

US Vice-President Kamala Harris speaks via video-link to the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva on July 13, 2022. Picture: William West / AFP

Ms Harris also announced that the US is prepared to request from the US Congress US$60 million per year for the next ten years—nearly triple the current levels and US$600 million in total—in connection with a new Economic Assistance Agreement with the Forum Fisheries Agency.

The US will also appoint the first ever US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. By doing this, it hopes to further increase its overall diplomatic footprint across the Pacific.

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For the first time, the US will craft and publish the US strategy on the Pacific islands. It is said to be a whole-of-government strategy to prioritise the Pacific Islands in American foreign policy and drive effective implementation.

The US National Strategy on the Pacific islands will align with the goals, areas of focus, and principles of the Pacific Islands Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

As announced earlier by the White House, the Peace Corps will be back in the Pacific. Their volunteers will return to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu, and will work with the region to explore program expansion to additional Pacific countries.

Pacific leaders meeting at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva. Pic- PIFS

Ms Harris also updated the progress towards re-establishing a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Mission for the Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

The Vice President said that USAID is taking steps to expand its presence in the Pacific, subject to congressional notification, to improve close cooperation with its host country partners.

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