By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Biden administration has called on the U.S. Congress to take immediate action on new agreements forged by U.S. negotiators with affiliated Pacific island nations, noting the nexus between their economic stability and national security strategy.
"The Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau demonstrate our long-term commitment to these three nations, fostering economic prosperity and stability that form the foundation of our strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region," the White House said in a statement announcing the transmittal of five COFA-related agreements to Congress on Dec. 6.
"Under the Compacts, the United States provides for defense of and has the authority to deny third-party military access to these countries," the statement added.
The U.S. and the freely associated states concluded the COFA talks with the State Department pledging a $7.1 billion package over the next 20 years.
The compacts' economic provisions expired on Sept. 30 for the FSM and the Marshall Islands, while Palau's provisions will expire next year.
"Extending such assistance, including federal programs and services, is a critical component of the Biden-Harris’ administration’s Indo-Pacific, Pacific Partnership, and National Security Strategies," the White House said.
Washington has been boosting its engagements with Pacific partners amid growing threats from China, which is attempting to further expand its footprint in the region.
Security experts and diplomatic observers, however, warned that "congressional dysfunction" is serving as an incentive for Beijing to scale up its game.
"The Biden administration is working closely with the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to allow for the implementation of these five agreements, which will fulfill our commitments and strengthen our enduring relationships with our Compact of Free Association partner nations," the White House said.
These five agreements are:
1. The agreement concerning procedures for the implementation of U.S. economic assistance provided in the 2023 amended compact between the U.S. and the FSM.
2. The 2023 federal programs and services agreement between the U.S. and the FSM
3. The agreement concerning procedures for the implementation of U.S. economic assistance provided in the 2023 amended compact between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands;
4. The agreement between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands regarding the compact trust fund; and
5. The agreement between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands to amend FOA.
" The administration calls on Congress to pass Compacts-related legislation as soon as possible," the statement from the White House said. "The Biden administration appreciates the bipartisan work in Congress to advance legislation necessary to bring these agreements into force."