Amata, Kilili named co-chairs of bipartisan task force combatting Chinese government influence in Indo-Pacific

Photo: Aumua Amata/Twitter

U.S. Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata of American Samoa and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the CNMI have been named co-chairs of a bipartisan task force officially announced Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol as part of the work of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva, D-AZ., formed the bipartisan task force to conduct oversight on issues facing the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States in the Indo-Pacific region, with seven members each from the Republican majority and Democratic minority within the committee.

In her remarks, Amata said: “First of all, thank you to Chairman Westerman and Ranking Member Grijalva for convening this Task Force. They’ve both been good friends over the years to the Pacific Islands, and I appreciate their commitment to this as a bipartisan effort. We stand together for the security and economic future of the U.S. Pacific territories and our allies in the Freely Associated States. I’m honored to be co-chair of this task force and working together, as we often have, with my good friend, Co-Chair Sablan from the Marianas.

“This task force has assembled an impressive spectrum of members of Congress, an equally balanced 14-member group, with perspective from their various Committees, adding expertise to all sides of examining the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the Pacific Islands.

“The Pacific Islands are my home. I live on the beautiful shoreline in American Samoa, and I spent years of my youth, both in American Samoa and in the Trust Territory – now the Freely Associated States, and studied in Hawai’i and Guam. I know each of them well, and the rest of the Pacific Islands.

“I represent the U.S. territory of Samoa, but most of you know there is another Samoa that is an independent Pacific Island nation. My friend the Prime Minister invited me to join her and other heads of state in Apia for its Independence Day celebration. The message I heard loud and clear is simple: The U.S. Pacific Summit Declaration stated that COFA is a cornerstone of U.S regional strategy. Now the whole region and the world is watching what we do to finish the job and renew the COFA on mutually agreed terms acceptable to Congress, to see if the U.S really means what we say.

“I look forward to working with these colleagues, as Congress fulfills its role in reviewing the Compacts over the next few months, and ensuring these friendships with the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, are strong and enduring. These Compacts are of great mutual benefit. They are one of the most important tools that the United States has in supporting democracy and good governance, while denying China the ability to project strategic power throughout the vast Pacific region.

“The Chinese Communist Party has decimated large swaths of the South China Sea and is ravaging the Pacific. Their highly subsidised distant-water fishing fleet has been destroying fishing stocks through IUU fishing for too long — and we need to work with our Pacific Island partners to restore order on the high seas.

“In recent years, I’ve not been alone in seeking more signals of unwavering U.S. commitment to the Pacific, and this Task Force is a strong sign that Congress is focused on this key region, and we understand the deep concerns regarding China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands.”

The three U.S. territories in the Pacific are American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

The U.S. also has international agreements or Compacts of Free Association with three Pacific Island countries: the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, collectively referred to as the Freely Associated States or FAS.

The U.S. has vital security and economic interests throughout the Indo-Pacific region, particularly amid rising competition with the People’s Republic of China. The importance of the FAS cannot be overstated, given the proximity to the U.S. homeland areas and the broader geopolitical context.

While the U.S. has historically enjoyed good relations and ties in the Indo-Pacific region, the People’s Republic of China has increasingly sought to reshape regional political, economic and strategic alignments.

This has especially been the case with the U.S. Pacific territories and the FAS. The PRC has sought to take advantage of the relatively weak economies of island nations. Through offerings of economic aid and infrastructure development, the PRC has leveraged its resources to shape political outcomes and perceptions of the U.S in the region while waging political warfare to gain undue influence and/or destabilise island nations.

The Indo-Pacific Task Force will discuss and advance solutions to counter the PRC’s influence and to maintain America’s capacity to secure its interests in order to remain engaged with the FAS region and respond to coercive activity by the PRC in the Pacific. In addition to Task Force Co-Chair Amata, R-A.S., and  Sablan, D-CNMI, Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., will serve on the task force, along with U.S Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Ed Case, D-Hawaii, Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., Jim Moylan, R-Guam, Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., Katie Porter, D-Calif., Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., and Rob Wittman, R-Va.