The United States will sign new security pacts with the Pacific island states of Palau and Micronesia over the next two days.
And it hopes to sign a third agreement with the Marshall islands in coming weeks, US envoy Joseph Yun has revealed.
Joseph Yun said the Palau agreement would be formally signed in the presence of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr in Papua New Guinea on Monday.
And the pact with Micronesia would be signed on Tuesday in the island nation, he said.
‘Deals cover northern half of the Pacific’
Yun initialed the agreements, part of US efforts to shore up support among Pacific island states to counter competition from China, during visits to Micronesia and Palau over the past week.
“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 defence and provides economic assistance while gaining exclusive access to huge strategic swathes of the Pacific in return.
Yun said Micronesia preferred to formalize its agreement on home territory. Earlier he said both Palau and Micronesia would sign their COFAs in PNG.
The Marshall Islands’ COFA is due to expire this year. Yun gave no reason for the hold-up in renewing that, but an election is expected there in November. He called the deals “strategically important.”
“We’ve achieved two out of three,” he said. “Compacts are very important for the United States. It defines the relationship between us and northern half of the Pacific.”
Pushing back against China
Renewing them has become a key part of US 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.
US 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 US debt-ceiling crisis.
He was also forced to cancel a visit to Australia, where leaders were due to hold a meeting of the Quad security group. Leaders of the Quad meet in Hiroshima on Saturday night on the sidelines of G7 summit instead.
Blinken is flying to Port Moresby tonight to sign bilateral defense and maritime security agreements with Papua New Guinea 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.
Yun said last month “topline” agreements would provide the three COFA states with a total of about $6.5 billion over 20 years.
Last year, more than 100 arms-control, environmental and other activist groups urged the Biden administration to formally apologize to the Marshall Islands for the impact of massive US nuclear testing there and to provide fair compensation.
Marshall Islanders are still plagued by health and environmental effects of the 67 US nuclear bomb tests from 1946 to 1958, which included “Castle Bravo” at Bikini Atoll in 1954 – the largest US bomb ever detonated.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard