Updated: Feb 8
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet this week with 18 Pacific island leaders in Fiji as part of his regional tour to reassert the United States’ attention to the Indo-Pacific region despite the distraction of its mounting conflict with Russia over Ukraine.
“Secretary Blinken’s objective in stopping in Fiji and holding this meeting with Pacific island leaders is again to demonstrate our commitment to this region, to demonstrate how important these partnerships are to the United States,” Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at a virtual press conference Friday.
According to Zia Syed, director of Asia-Pacific Media Hub for U.S. Department of State, island nations invited to the hybrid meeting with Blinken as Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Guam is not in Blinken's itinerary. Besides Fiji, Blinken’s route also includes Australia and Hawaii for a series of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral engagements to advance the U.S.'s priorities in the Indo-Pacific, Kritenbrink said.
He said the list on the agenda includes the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, issues related to the maritime domain from maritime security to illegal fishing.
“As I may have noted, climate change will be a key priority, as will be issues related to economic development and economic recovery amidst the pandemic,” Kritenbrink added.
Blinken is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is currently recuperating from heart surgery.
This will be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985.
“This will be an opportunity for our two countries to discuss our partnership together and a range of common interests that we both share," Kritenbrink said.
“I don’t want to get into all of the details of the secretary's itinerary at each stop, but I do want to stress again that the key theme of this trip at every stop is that our partnerships deliver results, and we’re seeing that play out every day, especially as we work hand in hand to put the pandemic behind us,” he added.
In Australia, Blinken will attend the fourth Quad foreign ministers ministerial in Melbourne.
“The key message that the secretary will take with him on this trip is that our partnerships deliver, and in this era of intense competition, changing strategic landscapes, economic coercion, and, of course, this very difficult global pandemic, there is no greater global partnership than what we are trying to accomplish through the Quad with Australia, India and Japan,” Kritenbrink said.
The Quad is a key component of U.S. foreign economic and security policy in the Indo-Pacific region, Kritenbrink said.
In Hawaii, Blinken will hold a bilateral meeting with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Chung and INDOPACOM Commander Admiral John Aquilino.
“As to whether this trip says anything about Ukraine, I think the way that I would respond to that question is simply to say that the United States is demonstrating how vitally important the Indo-Pacific is to our peace, to our prosperity, to our security,” Kritenbrink said.