President Biden on Monday will host leaders from Pacific island nations for a summit, senior administration officials announced.
The president is hosting the second US-Pacific Islands Forum Summit, after hosting the leaders a year ago. China’s influence in the region likely played a role in the White House’s decision to host the leaders.
The summit involves the president “following up on his pledge to take our commitment and our engagement in the Pacific region to the next level,” officials said.
When asked about if the U.S.-China competitive relationship has renewed this engagement, officials said it is a factor.
“There’s also no question that there is some role that the [People’s Republic of China] has played in all this,” officials said. “No question that its assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has been a factor that requires us to sustain our strategic focus.”
“But what we’re really focused on doing is showing our Pacific Island friends that the United States, working with like-minded partners, can provide viable alternatives that will work for Pacific island nation,” they added.
The summit will involve most nations — including Australia and New Zealand and two nations new to the group, Cook Islands and Niue. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare won’t be in attendance, officials said, after attending the United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York last week.
The Solomon Islands in July signed an agreement on cooperation with China to build a “comprehensive strategic partnership” around law enforcement and security matters.
“The United States is disappointed that Prime Minister Sogavare — he has been in New York this week, but is returning to Solomans over the weekend and I think we’re disappointed that he has chosen not to come to this very special… summit,” officials said.
The leaders coming to Washington are riding a special Amtrak train from New York to Baltimore on Sunday and they will also be a guest at the Ravens game, officials said. They are set to appear on the field to “be recognized for their roles as American friends in the Indo-Pacific.”
Then, the group will go on a Coast Guard ship in Baltimore to be briefed on maritime issues and U.S. efforts to combat illegal fishing. Official meetings — including Biden, senior members of the administration and members of Congress — will begin on Monday.
Biden, at the United Nations last week, outlined that the U.S. is not seeking conflict with China but that the U.S. will “push back on aggression and intimidation.”
The Biden administration has sought to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific while, at the same time, increasing outreach to China through Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have gone nearly a year without having a face-to-face meeting.