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 hosted 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 unveiled new infrastructure funding for Pacific Island partner nations, and announce $10 million through the Quad partnership to improve maritime domain awareness in the Pacific. 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 hosted 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.
“We know a great deal of the history of the world will be written across the Pacific over the coming years. We owe it to the next generation to help write that story together, to do the hard work, the historic work. … Today, let’s recommit to that goal and let’s recommit to each other,” Biden said as the leaders gathered in the East Room.
“Our objective is to build a better world,” through “stronger partnerships with each other,” he said, citing the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands and Niue, as well as new economic agreements, new US Embassies in Tonga and the Solomon Islands, the return of the Peace Corps to some countries, and the doubling of academic exchanges for Pacific Island students.
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 is 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.
During the meeting, Biden also touted US investment in the region, including $40 billion for infrastructure and connectivity, as well as a new microfinance facility and a $600 million agreement for sustainable development on the Pacific Island fisheries.
And he announced a new military partnership: “This we shall send the first US Coast Guard vessel solely dedicated to collaborate and train with Pacific Island nations,” he said, adding that the US will invest $11 million in maritime domain awareness technology to the region.
Biden also offered assurances to the leaders on climate change: “I want you to know I hear you. The people in United States and around the world hear you. We hear your warnings of a rising sea – that they pose an existential threat to your nations. We hear your calls for reassurance that you never, never, never will lose your statehood, or membership of the UN as result. climate crisis. Today, the United States is making it clear that this is our position as well.”