The US will sign new strategic treaties with the Pacific island nations of Palau and Micronesia early next week, and wants to do likewise with the Marshall Islands in the coming weeks, according to the US presidential envoy negotiating the agreements.
According to Joseph Yun, the Palau agreement will be legally signed in the presence of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. on Monday in Papua New Guinea, while the Micronesia agreement will be inked on Tuesday in Micronesia.
Yun initialed the agreements, part of U.S. efforts to shore up support among Pacific island states to counter competition from China, during visits to Micronesia and Palau in the past week. As anticipated, he was unable to conclude the deal with the Marshall Islands.
“We have made progress over my three-day visit to Marshall Islands and we hope to sign an agreement with the Marshall Islands in the coming weeks,” he said.
Washington first reached what are known as Compact of Free Association (COFA) accords with the three island states in the 1980s, under which it retains responsibility for their defense and provides economic assistance while gaining exclusive access to huge strategic swathes of the Pacific in return.
Renewing them has become a key part of U.S. efforts to push back against China’s bid to expand its influence in the Pacific. Chinese diplomats have been courting the region and China’s construction and mining companies have expanded their business in many Pacific island nations.
U.S. President Joe Biden had been due to attend the signing ceremonies in Port Moresby, but on Tuesday called off what was to have been a brief stopover there due to the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis.
Blinken will take his place and also sign bilateral defense and maritime security agreements with PNG and meet with leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum. Biden’s national security adviser said on Wednesday the president would arrange another summit of Pacific island leaders this year after the disappointment caused by his cancellation.