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You have our attention – US

The United States will definitely be talking more to the Pacific, according to United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert.

The high level US delegate’s visit to Fiji coincided with the visit of four other Pacific leaders to Suva.

Over the last few months, the Pacific has become a hotbed for geopolitical issues taking some attention away from the Ukrainian conflict.

Mr Lambert even allowed the media to have discussions with him, something amiss from the visit of the last two high level delegations from the US.

Perhaps, the path has been paved by the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong who attempted to engage with media at every available opportunity to demonstrate the level of transparency the new Australian government was willing to provide.

Mr Lambert said criticisms had been raised about the US’s lack of engagement with Pacific nations.

“I think frankly, what my country can do better is visit more frequently. Listen more intently, and try to follow up on the concerns of the countries here. Yes, we have had a difficult time talking to our friends in the Pacific recently, in part because it’s just been hard to travel here,” said Mr Lambert.

The United States will definitely be talking more to the Pacific, according to United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert. Picture: US Embassy Suva

“And even before that, I think we’ve heard a lot of criticism about my country not engaging with the countries in this part of the world as regularly as we should. So we’re going to be trying to do more in that respect.

“With respect to what the Cook Islands Prime Minister was saying about not letting the countries in this region being pawns in some geopolitical rivalry. We don’t want that either.”

Just like China, the US has key interests in the Pacific. The region holds massive fish stocks and deep sea minerals are being discovered on the sea bed.

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The US after their so called high level tours of the Pacific have stated that they are willing to work with the Pacific nations to protect their valuable fish and marine stocks by providing access to technology that will allow the Pacific to monitor illegal fishing.

There has already been an announcement that there will be more US Coast Guard presence in the Pacific.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert with Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayewd-Khaiyum. Picture: US Embassy Suva

Mr Lambert said this was not an attempt to militarise the region and neither was the US interest in the region renewed by China’s growing presence.

“What we are trying to do is address these development issues. I think there’s a real need to improve our education issues. We are listening to the fundamental challenge that our planet faces but also the countries in this part of the world face on climate change,” he said.

“You know, that while my president was in Tokyo as part of the Quad, we announced our intention to increase our work on combating illegal and unregistered fishing issues and not just here but in the Indian Ocean as well.

“And part of that includes enhancing maritime domain so that the countries in this part of the world will have the ability to track ships that are illegally harvesting fish and punish them appropriately. None of those things have to do with the military.”

Mr Lambert’s visit to the region signifies the change in the US attitude when dealing with the Pacific, however this also looks like US targeting China in the Pacific.

China’s interest in fish stock is massive and they have the most vessels in the Pacific at any given time.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert (fourth from left) at the Pacific Forum Secretariat. Picture: US Embassy Suva

Surely enough the Pacific nations are being dragged into a geopolitical tussle but, the Pacific nations seem aware of this. The Pacific Island leaders are bridging whatever little divide they have had to ensure a united stand against this.

Funnily enough, the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs was initially called the Office of Chinese Affairs.

After Fiji, Mr Lambert heads to New Zealand.

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