1st US-Pacific Summit under fire for inadequate Biden proposal
The summit is proving to be a political embarrassment for Washington as the Solomon Islands reject a draft US agreement while Micronesian leaders raise serious concerns about “insufficient” financial assistance to the region.
With US President Joe Biden hosting the US-Pacific Islands summit on Wednesday, which marks a first-ever invitation for Pacific leaders to be hosted at the White House, things are not are going according to plan.
The summit is thus far proving to be a political embarrassment for Washington as the Solomon Islands reject a draft US agreement, and Micronesian leaders raise serious concerns about “insufficient” financial assistance to the region.
According to leaked documents obtained by The Guardian, the summit which is intended to enrich and bolster relations with the Pacific islands and is significant in counteracting China’s growing engagement in the region, has sparked debate among the islands' leaders after the Solomon Islands refused to accept a US proposal. While the islands sought to address their climate emergency in July, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced in an unprecedented move a fund of $600 million to the islands in order "to counter the Chinese influence in the region."
Written by the Embassy of the Solomon Islands in New York, the leaked document reveals the nation's refusal to endorse a regional diplomatic agreement presented by the US: “Solomon Islands is not in a position to adopt the declaration this week and will need time to reflect on the declaration and refer the declaration through Solomon Islands’ national decision-making process,” says the note, which was addressed to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and seen by the Guardian. “Solomon Islands note that the declaration remains under discussion and have yet to enjoy consensus and will need further discussion.”
It is noteworthy that the country signed a security deal with China back in April, drawing the ire of Australia and the US despite their establishment of the nuclear-based AUKUS alliance only a few months earlier. Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare had termed international criticism of the country's security discussions with China "insulting" and those who leaked the draft security deal "lunatics".
The US-Pacific partnership declaration draft which consists of 11 points binds Pacific countries and the US to collaborate “in the face of a worsening climate crisis and an increasingly complex geopolitical environment”. On the other hand, China's detailed security proposition earlier this year - rejected by 10 Pacific countries - stated in great detail the sums of money, nature of the programs and even the number of Chinese art troupes that would be sent to the islands within the frame of a cultural exchange program. The American draft, as opposed to the Chinese, draws a more general frame of principles of commitments, including expanding Pacific regionalism and boosting economic development, fighting the climate crisis, and protecting the Blue Pacific while maintaining peace and security.
'Insufficient economic assistance' ignores climate change
The US has Compact of Free Association agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, with the agreements of the former two due to expire next year and which stipulate the US' provision of financial assistance to them in exchange for defense responsibilities.
On Friday, The Marshall Islands suspended major discussions with the US over longstanding concerns, stretching back 70 years, pertaining to nuclear testing on the atolls in the middle of the Pacific. The Marshall Islands refused to continue discussions unless Washington addresses the persistent health, environmental, and economic difficulties caused by US nuclear testing on the picturesque atolls from 1946 to 1958.
The leaked letter from the ambassadors of all three Pacific governments the Guardian claims having obtained states: “The current proposed assistance is inconsistent with the contributions of our islands towards the security and stability of the region, which also supports US interests in the region.... the US-proposed economic assistance seems predetermined and based on insufficient analysis … To put it simply: the US economic assistance is insufficient", adding that “the governments we represent cannot rely on a successful outcome from what has been presented” in negotiations.
The impacts of the climate crisis put the Small Developing Island States (SIDS) across the Pacific at grave risk, as a World Bank report last year predicted that entire islands would disappear, merely based on projections of a one-meter sea level rise - not to mention the heat waves and droughts that are affecting the region's crops and livestock, threatening their entire livelihood.
This critical matter was addressed at the 76th United Nations General Assembly last year in New York, especially by Maldivian president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who underlined that the slight difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius could mean a 'death sentence' to the Maldives and the SIDS, which multinational corporations such as those in the US are gravely contributing to.
“Our remarks may come across as heated, but the primary point is that this [climate change] is our hottest and most important topic,” said the ambassadors in the leaked letter. “We are unable to solve climate change, and unable to provide for our citizens’ education and health needs, unless and until these negotiations conclude, and conclude in such a manner that genuinely meet our development needs", concluding: “The gaps between the needs of our peoples and what has been offered are narrowed, but are far from closed".