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Pacific Elders nix Indo-Pacific strategy

Former leaders say lumping Pacific islands together with Indian Ocean countries is 'problematic' and 'unacceptable'

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Confronted by a formidable adversary, the United States has been working overtime to accelerate its engagement in the Blue Pacific to make up for years of neglect.

This time, the U.S. anticipates a "long-term future" in the Pacific islands region, which is part of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific strategy against China’s relentless cash diplomacy and power expansion.

The Pacific Elders Voice, however, is not pleased that the region has been assigned a key role in U.S. homeland and regional security in a unilateral manner.

“This new attention to the Pacific has not been developed through full and proper consultation with all Pacific countries,” PEV said in a statement.

PEV is composed of former presidents of Pacific island nations and leaders of regional organizations. Members include former Palau President Tommy Remengesau, former Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, former Guam Congressman Robert Underwood among others.

A week prior to Russia’s assault on Ukraine, State Secretary Antony Blinken visited Australia and Fiji last month, notifying Pacific island leaders that despite the conflict in Europe, the U.S. remained focused on the Indo-Pacific region.

“We know, the President knows and each of you know this better than anyone else, that so much of this century is going to be shaped by what happens here in the Indo-Pacific region,” Blinken said.

According to the Indo-Pacific strategy released by the White House last month, the United States is deepening its five regional treaty alliances—with Australia, Japan, the ROK, the Philippines, and Thailand—and strengthening relationships with leading regional partners, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands.

“We will support and empower allies and partners as they take on regional leadership roles themselves, and we will work in flexible groupings that pool our collective strength to face up to the defining issues of our time, particularly through the Quad,” the White House report said.

But PEV said lumping the Pacific islands together with Indian Ocean countries is “problematic” and “unacceptable.”

“The Pacific Island region (commonly referred to by Pacific islanders as the Moana) has its own set of unique challenges and should not be linked with the Indian Ocean in a blanket, military perspective,” the statement said.


“ We note that the strategy states that ‘allies and partners” outside the region are increasingly committing new attention to the Indo-Pacific, particularly the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” the Elders said.

PEV also contested the status of Quad as the "premier" regional bloc.

“The security and future of the Pacific must be determined primarily by Pacific island countries and not by external powers competing over strategic interests within our region,” PEV said.

The Pacific Elders blamed the superpowers-- China, the U.S. and its allies-- for creating "the growing military tension in the Pacific region," while overlooking the "real threat to the region caused by climate change."

"These nations have done very little to address their own greenhouse gas emissions, despite statements of intent by the nations. Little has been done to address the impacts of climate change in the Pacific caused by their respective greenhouse gas emissions. Adequate funding for loss and damage caused by climate change need to be addressed by Australia, China and the US in their engagement with the Pacific.

“The Elders are concerned that there has not been an in-depth analysis of the Indo-Pacific strategy from within the Pacific region and therefore call on academics and others to undertake a thorough analysis of the strategy in order that we may be able to better understand how this strategy plays out in the context of our region and our own concerns about security, particularly in relation to climate change,” PEV said in a statement.

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