(MENAFN- Asia Times) Just before the second summit between the US and the Pacific Islands Forum at the White House in September, the US hosts took Pacific leaders to an American football game. One, however, was conspicuously absent : Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
This led many to question whether Sogavare's absence was evidence that in another kind of competition – the rivalry between the US and China for influence in Oceania – Beijing had taken the lead.
Sogavare has made no secret of his increasing coziness with China. His government decided in 2019 to“switch” diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China, for instance, and signed a controversial security agreement with Beijing three years later.
The US, however, has not stood idly by. After last year's inaugural US-Pacific summit , Washington announced a new Pacific Partnership Strategy , with shared goals and priorities on climate change mitigation, nuclear nonproliferation, maritime security and post-pandemic economic recovery.
The US also made a pledge of US$810 million (A$1.275 billion) to the Pacific. Some $600 million of this was earmarked for the Pacific Fisheries Agency to contain illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The US has also gotten its allies involved. Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom joined forces with the US last year to form a group called Partners in the Blue Pacific to co-ordinate their outreach to the region.
With this engagement, the US has been seen as finally taking the region seriously and – more to the point – China's growing footprint as a threat to its interests. Oceania now appears to matter.
As the Pacific Islands Forum holds its annual summit in the Cook Islands this week, it's a good time to reflect on this increased interest from outside powers, such as the US, China and Australia, and what it all means – especially to the people of the region.
Australian soldiers with an aerial view of an unnamed Pacific island nation. Photo: Twitter
For the US, interest in the Pacific Islands seemingly centers on China and tuna. But these interests alone don't place the region above others in order of strategic importance.
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