US directs focus on Pacific islands region
President Trump is preparing to meet with leaders of freely associated states at the White House on Monday to reinforce Washington’s alliance with the strategic region, where China is building power and influence.
“And so, President Trump is looking forward to discussing our shared security concerns, including countering the illegal and unregulated and unreported fishing; dealing with transnational crime and trafficking; and also working on the protection of all nations' sovereignty as part of the free and open Indo-Pacific,” administration officials during a teleconference with Pacific island reporters.
This will be Trump’s first meeting with President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, President Hilda Heine of Marsal Islands and newly elected President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Read related story
While claiming the meeting is not intended to strategize any plan to counter any threat from any particular nation, administration officials said Trump “has been directing an unprecedented level of focus on the Pacific Islands, in recognition of the fact that the United States is a Pacific nation, with immutable strategic economic, cultural and people-to-people links in the islands.”
Palau, Marshall Islands and FSM, collectively known as freely associated states, have Compacts of Free Association with the United States, which allow FAS citizens visa-free entry to the U.S. in exchange for military control of their waters and air space.
“We have a unique and special partnership with them based on our shared sacrifice in World War II and following the war. We have compacts of free association with those countries that are unlike any other documents between sovereign states,” administration officials said.
Highlighting Washington’s new focus on the region, administration officials said, is the high-level visits by American officials including then-Interior Secretary Zinke who attended the Pacific Islands Forum in 2018. Vice President Pence visited Papua New Guinea to attend the APEC Forum in November and Assistant Secretary of Defense Randy Shriver in December 2018. Patrick Murphy, at the State Department, visited earlier this year.
“So we’ll be sending additional senior delegations to the region, including at the Cabinet level, to Pacific Island states in the coming months,” administration officials said.
“We look forward to continuing our assistance to the Freely Associated States and all Pacific Islands in strengthening their resilience against natural disasters, rising sea levels, soil erosion, invasive species, and other threats,” they added.
While Panuelo was set to meet with Trump, FSM Vice President Yosiwo P. George received a courtesy call from Chinese delegation in Pohnpei. Representing China Foreign Affairs University China, Chinese Ambassador Huang Zheng discussed “CFAU’s diplomatic training courses, and to discuss how the FSM and China can promote further cooperation for FSM’s economic development.”
Read more in the June issue of the Pacific Island Times print edition.