President Joe Biden’s Summit of Pacific Island Countries taking place at the White House this week is showing cracks before talks have even started in Washington. There is defiance by the Marshal Islands and the Solomon Islands, already ahead of the Summit who are publicly resisting the Biden administration’s efforts to deepen U.S. influence in the region.
The Guardian called it a “rocky start” for Biden, as the Solomon Islands rejected the joint declaration, against the backdrop of the Solomon Islands’ security pact with China, signed earlier this year.
This defiance is no surprise and is explained by the past and previous US foreign policy: US nuclear tests and militarization of the region, experienced by both the Marshal Islands and the Solomon Islands, as I argued recently in The Geopolitics. That’s a past that the US won’t be able to escape or circumvent just like that when the talks get tough and honest. It’s not a question of simply inviting the countries’ leaders to the White House.
The Solomon Islands’ defiance became clear ahead the actual Summit. As an article in ABC by Marian Faa and Stephen Dziedric revealed, the Solomon Islands signaled ahead of the Summit that it won’t sign on to an 11-point declaration between the US and Pacific Island nations, dealing a blow to the White House. The Solomon Islands also sent a diplomatic note to other Pacific Island nations on Monday, announcing it will not sign up to the declaration, and stressing there was no consensus over the document. Some Pacific leaders say that Washington should accept their priorities, making climate change — not superpower competition — the most urgent security task.
The US can’t approach the relationship with Pacific Islands by assuming the higher moral ground. Michael Walsh argued in The Hill this week that the US shouldn’t criticize and “throws stones” at the Pacific islands over their governance and democracy. This benevolence doesn’t even come close to reality. The US is the one that should be looking at its past governance and foreign policy in the region and should be begging for forgiveness.
As the Compacts of Free Association – which have governed the relations between the US and some Pacific Islands Countries – expire soon in 2023, the US would have to do much better than that if it’s willing to keep the islands’ interest. A leaked letter to Kurt Campbell, the US National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, stated that “the US economic assistance is insufficient.” Team Biden is simply not offering enough. The US is expected to revise the number for financial assistance
The Biden administration’s plan to simply gather the leaders of the region in one place, and wine and dine them at the White House won’t work out as team Biden expected. Both an account of the past and a reality check of adequate development assistance are due on the US side for a more realistic approach to the region. In my opinion, the Summit won’t deliver what team Biden expected this time.
[Photo by the White House]
*Iveta Cherneva is an author and analyst in the areas of geopolitics, foreign policy, security and human rights. She is an opinion contributor for Euronews, Salon, New York Times, The Geopolitics and others. Iveta worked for five UN agencies, US Congress, Oxford University, and other organizations.