Biden to host Pacific Islands summit at White House
President Joe Biden will host Pacific island leaders at the White House in September, a senior U.S. diplomat said Saturday. In this way, the U.S. is trying to strengthen its regional presence to counter China’s growing influence.
During a visit to Tonga, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said the country’s leaders will be invited to Washington for a summit later this month.
“This meeting will be a historic opportunity for the United States and Pacific Island countries to hear and listen to each other,” Sherman said.
U.S. diplomacy is seeking to strengthen alliances in the Pacific amid Beijing’s growing influence.
Washington has announced a number of new diplomatic missions in the region, a process that has gained momentum in recent months.
Vice President Kamala Harris recently delivered a landmark address to the Pacific Islands Forum, which was also attended by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
On Saturday, Sherman will participate in a series of events in the neighboring Solomon Islands to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.
The Solomon Islands are at the center of a renewed rivalry between Beijing and Washington in the South Pacific.
In April, China signed a security agreement with the island nation, much to the dismay of Western allies.
The deal, which critics fear could lead to China securing a military beachhead in the South Pacific, is likely to be high on the State Department’s visit agenda.
During her visit to Tonga, Sherman emphasized the potential consequences of China’s recent decision to suspend climate talks with the U.S., prompted by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
“For Tonga, climate change is existential, and we understand that. And it’s just terribly disappointing that the largest source of emissions in the world right now and the country that needs to be involved for us to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius is now out of this discussion,” Sherman said, referring to the PRC.
Under the terms of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, countries aim to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Sea level rise is a major problem in the region, where many countries are only a few feet above sea level and are already feeling the effects of climate change.