In a significant diplomatic move, the United States has officially recognized the Cook Islands and Niue as “sovereign and independent” states and has pledged to establish diplomatic relations with them.
This announcement was made by U.S. President Joe Biden during a two-day summit with Pacific Island leaders, aimed at strengthening ties with nations in the region and countering China’s growing influence.
In a statement issued on Monday, President Biden emphasized the historical and future connections between the Pacific Islands and the United States. He stated, “The United States’ recognition of the Cook Islands, and the establishment of diplomatic relations, will not only strengthen the ties between our nations, but it will also contribute to a more secure, prosperous, and free shared future for our people and people worldwide.”
The summit, known as the U.S.-Pacific Island Forum Summit, is expected to address pressing global issues, including the climate crisis, economic growth, sustainable development, and public health.
President Biden acknowledged the concerns of Pacific Island nations regarding rising sea levels and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to preserving their statehood and United Nations membership in the face of climate-related challenges.
This summit takes place amid escalating competition between the United States and China, with tensions over trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and Chinese economic and military influence in the Indo-Pacific. However, the Biden administration has stressed its intent to manage these tensions rather than seek confrontation with China.
During the summit, announcements regarding infrastructure projects and funding for maritime cooperation are expected. The United States aims to engage with the region economically while providing security guarantees. The participating nations in the forum include Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, and many others.
Pacific Island leaders have been vocal about the inadequacy of efforts by wealthy nations to combat climate change, considering these nations largely responsible for the problem. They have also criticized the profit-driven nature of loans provided to vulnerable nations for mitigating climate effects.
In a commitment made at last year’s summit, the White House outlined its Pacific strategy, which included plans to assist the region’s leaders in addressing climate change, maritime security, and overfishing. The administration pledged to provide $810 million in new aid to Pacific Island nations over the next decade, with $130 million allocated to combat climate change impacts.
President Biden welcomed the Pacific Island leaders to the White House for discussions and a working lunch, emphasizing the administration’s focus on increasing climate assistance. The U.S. government is working with Congress to invest $40 billion in its Pacific Islands infrastructure initiative.
In closing, President Biden stated, “The United States is committed to ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free, open, prosperous, and secure. We are dedicated to collaborating with all nations around this table to achieve this goal.”
The summit also includes talks on climate change with Special Envoy John Kerry, a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and various meetings with members of Congress and the business community. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will host a round table with the leaders and business representatives to further discussions on economic cooperation.