President Joe Biden met Pacific island leaders for a second White House summit on Monday, part of a charm offensive aimed at curbing further inroads by China into a strategic region that Washington has long considered its own backyard.
Before welcoming the island leaders, gathered under the umbrella of the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, Biden announced U.S. diplomatic recognition of two more Pacific islands nations, the Cook Islands and Niue.
U.S. officials said the United States would also promise new money for infrastructure for the region, including to improve internet connectivity via undersea cables.
“The United States committed to ensuring (an) Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, prosperous and secure. We’re committed to working with all the nations around this table to achieve that goal,” Biden said at the welcoming ceremony.
The U.S. would work with Congress to provide $40 million to support “secure, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure” in the region and also with partners, including Japan and Australia, to support inclusive, climate-resilient economic development, an official said.
In referring to the plan at the welcoming, Biden mistakenly gave the amount as $40 billion, instead of $40 million, a U.S. official said.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, the forum’s chair, called the summit “an opportunity … to develop our partnerships for prosperity.”
He urged Washington “to actively engage at the highest level” in the 52nd Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting he would host in a few weeks to endorse its 2050 plan.