Thursday, April 11, 2024
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Home » Billions of dollars in support.. How does Washington confront China’s influence in the Pacific Islands?

Billions of dollars in support.. How does Washington confront China’s influence in the Pacific Islands?

by Keegan Ross
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US President Joe Biden’s administration has proposed allocating a budget of billions of dollars to support the Pacific Islands, as part of a country-led plan to counter Chinese expansion and influence there. This comes at a time when Beijing is doubling its economic and political efforts to mobilize the largest number of these islands to its side.

With the intensification of tensions between the United States and China, the Pacific region has become an arena of intense competition between the two sides. As that region constitutes a strategic depth for the two world powers, given that they overlook that ocean and that they have commercial and military activity there.

China continues to expand its sphere of influence in the region by doubling economic, political and security efforts to bring the largest number of these islands into its sphere of domination. This is what prompts President Joe Biden’s administration, during its proposed public spending plan Thursday, to allocate a budget of billions of dollars to support the Pacific Islands, in a plan to curb Chinese influence there.

Billion dollar budget

The budget item of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development within the spending plan proposed by the White House on Thursday included a financial envelope of more than $7.1 billion to finance the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. The White House said those payments were part of its strategy to “compete outside China” and strengthen US alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.

Western media reports described this budget as “the region’s largest single budget item in the spending plan”, apart from direct military programmes, most notably the nuclear submarine development program with Australia and the United Kingdom .

The White House defended his proposal that “China is the only competitor to the United States, both in terms of its work to reshape the international system and its increasing economic, diplomatic, military and technological strength to succeed in its endeavors (…) During these unprecedented and extraordinary times, the budget requires both discretionary and mandatory resources Both to beat China and to boost American prosperity globally.”

US subsidies will be disbursed to these islands over a period of 20 years, as it will extend free association agreements with the three countries dating back to the 1960s, according to which the United States provides them with basic services and economic support in exchange for rights to establish military bases and other preferential treatment.

It is not clear whether the US Congress will approve this aid, as the total budget proposal faces sharp polarization in the Republican-led House of Representatives. But in exchange for this, members of Congress showed a rare unity in confronting China, and previously offered the possibility of seeing the Pacific island’s assistance positively.

If Congress approves, Micronesia will receive $3.3 billion, the Marshall Islands $2.3 billion, and Palau $890 million between 2024 and 2044, in addition to $634 million to continue managing the postal service of the three countries.

American concern about the Pacific Islands

The US is increasingly concerned about the three Pacific countries that the proposed budget allocated for subsidies, due to the imminent end of free association agreements with them, which will provide an opportunity for China to expand its influence there. Existing agreements with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia will expire this year, while the agreement with Palau expires in 2024.

The agreements are being criticized by the islanders because their previous versions did not adequately respond to their needs, and did not address the longstanding environmental and health issues caused by US nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s.

China is intensifying its attempts to take advantage of the turbulent situation to achieve penetration into those islands. The outgoing President of Micronesia, David Panuelo, in a letter to parliament on Friday, accused Beijing of corruption, harassment, threats and “political aggression” against his country. This was condemned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, considering it “falsehoods.”

In general, in recent years, China continues to expand its sphere of influence in the Pacific region by intensifying its economic, political and security efforts. This explains, according to observers, that it has become the main donor in the region alongside traditional partners such as the United States and Australia.

According to Chinese government figures , Beijing has funded more than 100 aid projects in the Pacific region, donated more than 200 batches of in-kind support, and trained about 10,000 local specialists since the 1970s. According to a map of subsidies in the Pacific region issued by the Lowe Institute in 2022, between 2008 and 2020, China provided approximately $3.148 billion to the islands of the region, of which $3.145 billion was in bilateral agreements.

In addition to the security partnerships between Beijing and those countries, most notably signed with the Solomon Islands in 2022. According to which, Beijing will be allowed to send police and army personnel to the islands to “help maintain social order,” and Chinese warships can stop at the country’s ports, according to what Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare revealed .

To counter this influence, last September, US President Biden hosted the leaders of the Pacific islands at the Washington summit, in which he pledged to help stave off Chinese “economic coercion”, and promised to work more diligently with allies and partners to meet the needs of the islanders.

Also in this regard, Britain, the United States of America and Australia announced in September 2021 the establishment of a military alliance called Okus to “protect their interests” in the Pacific and Indian oceans against Chinese influence there. This sparked resentment, led by China, which saw in it the beginning of a new “Cold War”.

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