Asia

Sign US in trouble in Pacific

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Officials have sought to downplay concerns Pacific leaders could reject a draft agreement with the US ahead of a major summit in Washington.

President Joe Biden is hosting a number of Pacific Island leaders at the White House for a summit for the first time.

Officials have spent weeks in negotiations on a joint agreement, which would provide a framework for US engagement with the Pacific.

But hours before the summit was set to begin, leaders raised concerns about the 11-point declaration, which has been described as similar to the one put to 10 Pacific leaders in May.

Speaking ahead of the summit, a senior US administration official conceded there was “more work to be done” and downplayed concerns leaders had not agreed to a joint statement.

“We expect (discussions) to continue tomorrow, before the leaders sit down later in the day,” he said.

“This kind of interaction is not unusual.”

The senior administration official confirmed Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who signed a controversial security pact with China earlier in the year, would participate in the summit.

“We expect them to be actively engaged in our meetings over the next few days,” he said.

“Our expectation is that all the delegations that are here will participate.”

A number of sticking points on trade, aid and security were identified. The official did not “want to get ahead of ourselves” but said “Pacific Islanders have made clear to us that they want us as partners”.

The summit has been read as an attempt by the US to bolster ties with the Pacific in response to China’s growing engagement in the region.

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It follows the establishment of the Blue Pacific – a grouping of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – to enhance co-operation in the region.

Representatives of Australia and New Zealand will also attend the meeting.

“The idea here is to get countries who are interested … to step up their game and add more resources, more capacity, more diplomatic engagement as a whole,” the senior official said.

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