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US Vice-President Kamala Harris to make a virtual appearance at Pacific Islands Forum to unveil major plans for the region

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US Vice President Kamala Harris to make a virtual appearance at Pacific Islands Forum to unveil major plans for the region

United States Vice-President Kamala Harris will make a significant intervention at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders’ meeting, announcing that America will considerably ramp up its presence in the region.

The United States will launch its greatest Pacific push since World War II by returning the Peace Corps to the region, releasing a Pacific-wide strategy, and spending $900 million on economic development.

The announcement by US Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday is designed to head off Beijing’s increasingly self-assured Pacific agenda, after the Chinese government signed security management the Solomon Islands in April and pushed for a regional economic coalition in May, dividing the Pacific Islands Forum as its leaders met for the first time in three years.

Ms. Harris will make a series of announcements at an unexpected virtual meeting with leaders in Suva on Wednesday and uncover that the administration will craft the principal extensive US national strategy on the Pacific.

This remembers intends to open two new US embassies for the region — one in Tonga, and one more in Kiribati, which over the course of the end of the week announced that it was pushing ahead with its arrangement to pull out of the PIF.

The Vice-President will likewise announce the administration will appoint another emissary to the PIF and furrow an extra $500 million in financing into the Forum Fisheries Agency as a trade-off for fishing privileges, soothing a persevering irritant in its ties with Pacific nations.

She will likewise flag plans to restore a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) regional mission in Fiji and bring Peace Corps volunteers once more into the region.

Other major players sidelined

The Vice-President will be granted a platform to meet Pacific leaders and make a sweeping series of announcements despite the fact that the discussion has moved to sideline most significant abilities at the leaders’ meeting.

It has proactively postponed a different meeting with Dialog Partners – including the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and India – in order to allow discussion to focus on attempting to mend the rift with Micronesian nations.

However, the Biden administration’s announcements — and the Vice-President’s appearance at the Forum at such a fragile moment- is one more sign that the US is resolved to reasserting its presence and impact in the region as China keeps on growing its footprint.

A senior administration official said the US was “embarking on a new chapter of a long-standing partnership” with the Pacific and “significantly stepping up our game in the Pacific islands”.

Graeme Smith, the senior fellow at the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, said there was importance in Ms. Harris’ invitation coming straightforwardly from Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

In the past Fiji played a fascinating role, frequently being viewed as doing “Beijing’s bidding”, he told the ABC.

“There have been a few things in recent years that have indicated that might be cooling, and this seems to be another indication of that,” he said.

Dr. Smith said the US announcements were “a step back in the right direction” and in line with what the Pacific had been requesting in terms of commercial engagement and aid.

The US was demonstrating up and answering calls to be more present on the ground as opposed to not having any representation there, he said.

US could strike a separate Kiribati deal

Kiribati’s withdrawal from the PIF has been a dominating topic leading the pack up to the four-day leaders’ meeting.

The senior administration official said the US was worried by the move, yet all prepares whether or not an agreement was gone after Kiribati remained.

“We think obviously that PIF is stronger when united – it’s the whole point of the organisation … that countries can join together and speak as one … especially on climate,” the official said.

Kiribati’s choice has a few Pacific countries worried that it could bring about the island country being moved nearer to China.

Kiribati Opposition Leader Tassie Lambourne told ABC’s Pacific Beat program that she was “shocked” to learn of the withdrawal and trusted the government had not succumbed to outside pressure.

“I hope that there is no other reason for leaving the forum family. I sincerely hope that there hasn’t been any influence on our government’s decision from other external sources,” she said.

“That’s something of a concern to us. It is so unlike Kiribati to make a dramatic decision like this.”

Dr. Smith said the US could move to offer Kiribati a “compact deal” to ease any worries about the Micronesian state.

“That’s something I’d be looking for, because it was something that had been discussed on the fringes for a few years,” he said.

“Because of where it is on the planet — just under Hawaii — you would expect some sort of further US reaction down the line.”

After showing up in Fiji on Tuesday, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters to know that discussion individuals, including Australia, would seek reconciliation with Kiribati.

“Competition is one of the challenges the region faces, and it is best faced together,” she said.

In his opening ceremony address, Mr. Bainimarama stressed on the main issue of the forum was unity.

He said he respected the Kiribati President’s position, however, would keep working towards a resolution that is in the greatest interests of the Pacific public.

“It is my personal belief … that we are at our most resilient as a family. We speak more powerfully as a family, and we can only build our best possible future together as a family,” he said.

“We simply cannot make the same difference for the health, security and prosperity of our people without every Pacific voice helping to chart the course of our region’s direction.”

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