The US is formally establishing diplomatic relations with a pair of Pacific Island nations Monday, recognizing the Cook Islands and Niue for the first time.
The recognition comes as President Joe Biden seeks to strengthen relationships in the Indo-Pacific region as a counter to China’s rising influence, something that’s been a major priority since he took office. The administration has worked to deepen its engagement with Pacific Island nations, and is hosting the Pacific Island Forum leaders Monday at the White House.
Biden said in a pair of statements that he was “proud” to recognize Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign, independent states.
Niue, Biden said, “plays a critical and constructive role in the Pacific, including supporting the region’s sustainable development, security, and marine protection and ocean conservation.”
He continued, “Today’s announcement will enable us to deepen our cooperation with Niue on these challenges and more – from tackling the climate crisis, to protecting maritime borders and marine resources, to building sustainable economic growth, to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
And the announcement with the Cook Islands, Biden said, “will enable us to expand the scope of this enduring partnership as we seek to tackle the challenges that matter most to our peoples’ lives – from countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, to combating climate change, to building inclusive economic growth, to advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and beyond.”
Biden is also set to unveil new infrastructure funding for Pacific Island partner nations, and announce $10 million through the Quad partnership to improve maritime domain awareness in the Pacific, senior administration officials said.
The PIF is made up of leaders from Nauru, Vanuatu, French Polynesia, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Palau, Samoa, and Tonga.
Biden will host the leaders for a summit meeting and subsequent working lunch. They will also attend a roundtable with special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry before an evening dinner hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
US officials will take the opportunity during the Monday reception to formally celebrate the news that the US is officially opening diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands and Niue.
In addition to the new diplomatic relationships, the official said that the summit will see the United States announce steps “to provide secure undersea cable connectivity for Pacific Island nations – something that many of these nations need – where internet speed and connectivity is not as reliable as it should be, and where we all benefit.”
And the Quad partnership – an informal collaboration between Australia, India, Japan and the United States – will announce it’s expanding 2022’s Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative to the Pacific Island region with a $10 million investment “to improve maritime domain awareness,” amidst an increasingly bellicose China.
Still, the first official said, the focus will be on creating robust relationships with Pacific Island nations attending rather than explicitly countering China’s influence in the region.
“I think we genuinely believe in and feel that our national interests are tied to a free open, vibrant and dynamic Pacific region and that the United States is a Pacific power that is here to stay,” they said.
“But there’s also no question that there is some role that the [People’s Republic of China] has played in all this – no question that its assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has been a factor that requires us to sustain our strategic focus, but what we’re really focused on doing is showing our Pacific Island friends, that the United States working with like-minded partners can provide viable alternatives that will work for Pacific island nations.”