Biden invites island leaders to DC for second US-Pacific summit
Blinken to visit PNG as presidential proxy
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
U.S. Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken will fly to Papua New Guinea next week to stand in for President Joe Biden, who cancelled his much-ballyhooed trip to the South Pacific nation due to a debt-ceiling impasse in Congress.
According to a statement from the White House, Biden sent his regrets directly to PNG Prime Minister James Marape via a phone call from Air Force One today.
Political analysts said Biden's decision to skip PNG and Australia after attending this week's G7 summit in Japan jeopardized Washington's diplomatic gains in the Pacific island region, where the U.S. is racing against China for influence.
In a bid to save the day, the U.S. president invited Marape and other Pacific leaders to Washington, D.C. later this year for the second U.S. summit with the Pacific Islands Forum.
"The president emphasized continued U.S. commitment to the renewed partnership with the Pacific islands and conveyed that Secretary Blinken would represent him at the U.S.–Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Port Moresby," the White House said.
Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the Department of State, said Blinken will visit the capital district of Port Moresby on May 21-22 to meet with Pacific Islands Forum leaders on Biden's behalf and to sign Washington's bilateral agreements with PNG on defense cooperation and maritime security.
"He plans to discuss a range of issues with Pacific islands leaders, including shared priorities such as tackling the climate crisis, advancing inclusive economic growth for the people of the Pacific islands, and highlighting the U.S. commitment to realize a prosperous, resilient, and secure Pacific islands region in support of the Pacific Islands Forum 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent," Miller said in a statement.
Miller said Blinken will also reiterate the president's invitation to Pacific islands leaders for a planned sequel to last year's summit.
At the yet-to-be scheducted summit, the White House said, "leaders can continue discussions around enhancing U.S.-Pacific cooperation on shared priorities including combatting the climate crisis, increasing trade and economic ties, promoting maritime security, advancing sustainable and inclusive development, and increasing people-to-people engagement."
During his phone call with Marape, the president "personally conveyed" that he would be unable to travel to Papua New Guinea "due to the need to return to Washington for meetings with congressional leaders to ensure that Congress takes action by the deadline to avert default."
Analysts said Biden’s trip cancellation dealt a blow to the United States’ credibility, which China can capitalize on.
In an interview with Politico, Michael Walsh, who served as chair of the Asia-Pacific Security Affairs Subcommittee on the Biden Defense Working Group in 2020, said Beijing “expects their diplomatic missions to fully exploit these sorts of missed opportunities by the United States government."
“The president is right to put himself at the center of action by being in the deal-making room, but it’s painful to see a public relations gift for the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), a member of the House Select Committee on China.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president spoke to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this week to inform him of the postponement of his trip to Australia.
"He also invited the prime minister for an official state visit at a time to be agreed by the teams. The president’s team engaged with the prime minister of Papua New Guinea’s team to inform them as well," she said.
"Revitalizing and reinvigorating our alliances and advancing partnerships like the Quad remains a key priority for the President. This is vital to our ability to advance our foreign policy goals and better promote global stability and prosperity. We look forward to finding other ways to engage with Australia, the Quad, Papua New Guinea and the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in the coming year," the White House said.