Washington forges diplomatic relations with Niue, Cook Islands
Updated: Sep 26
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Continuing its efforts to expand its footprint in the Pacific region, the United States has sealed its diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands and Niue.
The agreements were signed separately in Washington D.C. on Monday.
Washington has been upping its engagements with Pacific island states in a bid to curb China's growing influence in the region.
The State Department said the new diplomatic agreements with the Cook Islands and Niue will bolster the United States' relationship with regional organizations including the influential Pacific Islands Forum, headed by Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.
"This forum did something else that was crucial: It recognized the global resonance of these aspirations – and it drove collective action to address them. Supporting territories in their right to self-determination," Secretary Antony J. Blinken said.
He noted that the forum plays "an outsized role in negotiating the Paris Climate Accords and shapes the Sustainable Development Goals.
"Because of the leadership of the Pacific Islands, big countries and small states alike are better positioned to choose their own path, enjoy greater access to clean air and water, and protect more of the planet for their children and their grandchildren," Blinken said.
“The establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Cook Islands marks a historic achievement that will further reinforce our friendship and deepen our bonds for many years to come," reads a joint statement from Blinken and Brown.
"We are connected by our history, our Pacific Ocean, and our people, and we look forward to our continued and strengthened partnership," the statement reads.
Brown said the U.S. became the 61st diplomatic partner of the Cook Islands, a South Pacific nation with a population of 17,459.
"This will undoubtedly pave the way for others to follow suit," said Brown.
"So this opportunity not just today but also tomorrow that we’re going to have is a terrific opportunity for all of us within the region to make sure that our voices are heard and that they are clearly articulated," he added.
In a separate ceremony, Blinken said the United States’ diplomatic partnership with Niue “begins a new chapter, as well as reinforcing existing friendships,” and “has the prospect of only deepening the bonds that already exist between our countries.”
“And we deeply appreciate Niue’s invaluable contributions to that effort on negotiations of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, combating illegal fishing, supporting the long-term economic resilience of island nations,” he said. “We very much applaud Niue’s sustainable development commitments and very progressive approach to marine protection and to ocean conservation.”
Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi, who led what he described as a “little tiny, weeny delegation,” the forging of his country’s diplomatic relations with the U.S. “is a historic day for us, especially for myself and my leadership, and for our small nation.”
“We have been looking forward to this day since the announcement was made by the U.S. last year that it would recognize Niue as a sovereign state. We have a small community of U.S. citizens living in Niue, and I believe we also have a community of Niueans who have chosen to make your country their home,” Tagelagi said.
“Although we make things official today, we have a long history of friendly relations with the U.S. Since the conception in 2013, we have had a number of young adults participate in the Young Pacific Leaders Conference organized by the U.S. Department of State,” he said
Tagelagi said he looks forward to the fulfillment of Washington's plan to reinstate the Peace Corps Mission in Niue.
"The Peace Corps volunteers began serving in Niue in 1994 until 2002, and we look forward to its revival. I don’t know why they left," he said.
In a statement, the State Department said the U.S. and Niue "will cooperate on shared priorities including the climate crisis, ocean stewardship, education, culture, sustainable development, democracy, human rights, and good governance."
The department said the two nations will also continue to work together through regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community.