Pacific Island leaders expect Biden visit in near future

Photo: Nauru Government

The leaders of five Pacific island nations said on Tuesday that U.S. President Joe Biden would soon visit their region for a leaders’ summit, in what experts said would be a significant move in U.S. efforts to push back against Chinese inroads in the region.

The leaders of the Pacific’s five Micronesian nations — Kiribati, Palau, Nauru, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia — met on Monday and issued a communique on Tuesday saying they had discussed the “value of a visit by U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr to the Pacific sometime in the near future.”

“Presidents welcomed President Biden’s planned visit for Leaders Summit in the Pacific region and expressed their full support and cooperation to ensure the success of this visit,” they said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said it had no travel to announce U.S. officials involved in talks with Pacific island countries declined to comment.

Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional bloc of 18 countries, will meet in Fiji on 24 February, and any invitation for a Biden visit would likely be agreed on and issued by the Forum.

Biden is expected to travel to Australia this year to attend a summit of the so-called Quad group of the United States, India, Australia and Japan expected to be held in May. The Quad nations have been working together to push back against China.

“A visit from President Biden to the Pacific islands would be highly significant,” said Justin Burke, an expert in Pacific island security and a visiting fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“No one should underestimate the diplomatic benefit of the personal touch in this region,” Burke said. “The White House should consider this invitation seriously.”

The United States last year stepped up its diplomacy and aid to the strategically important Pacific region after China struck a security deal with the Solomon Islands, and Beijing attempted but failed to forge a wider security and trade pact with 10 island nations.

Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President David Panuelo said in a statement that a U.S.-Pacific islands summit hosted by Biden at the White House in September was “an unambiguous success.”

“It will be of instrumental importance for the Pacific to ensure the United States continues to reengage, as thoroughly as possible, with our Blue Pacific Continent,” he said.

Washington is currently negotiating the renewal of cooperation agreements with three Pacific island nations — the FSM, the Marshall Islands and Palau — that give it access to huge swaths of the Pacific for defense purposes. It has signed memorandums of understanding with the three states on future U.S. assistance, but has not provided details.