PICTURED: Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Pacific Island Country Summit.
WASHINGTON D.C. September 28th 2022. The U.S. “Pacific Island Country Summit” kicked off at the White House on Wednesday as Biden attempts to bring his leviathan administration hard-to-starboard on issues relating to the Pacific Ocean’s various island nations.
Writ small, the summit currently features Antony Blinken and U.S. Climate envoy John Kerry making whatever promises, or even threats, necessary to ensure countries like Micronesia, Vanatau, or New Guinea, do not make any advanced partnerships of any kind with China.
Writ large, the summit is the second solid case study this year for Washington’s utter lack of perspective on current affairs, or control and command over its inclinations towards global leadership.
As Patricia O’Brien writes for The Diplomat, “few people could refute” that an April 2022 agreement over security cooperation and development signed between the Solomon Islands and China was the catalyst for this summit. Since that day the Solomon Islands has had to endure the absurd and obviously imperial rhetoric from both the U.S. and Australia, and has watched the pair conduct a full-scale diplomatic invasion of the region.
This reaction was nakedly about whether the white or the black king on the chessboard gets to control the pawn which is the Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands have lacked a U.S. ambassadorial presence for 29 years, as WaL reported in April, and 37 years must be wound back to find the last time a U.S. State Secretary visited any Pacific Island.
Then all of a sudden, Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific Coordinator at the National Security Council would be embarking on a visit to the Solomon Islands, alongside agents from the Pentagon, and USAID.
Then in May, the island country’s head of state Manasseh Sogavare told Parliament that his office had received threats of “invasion” by either the U.S., Australia, or both, despite stating officially that the agreement his country signed with China did not include the rights to host military bases, smaller installations, or large naval flotillas.
Summing up the following rhetoric, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not rule out military action against the Solomon Islands, while a top Indo-Pacific man in the Biden cabinet said the U.S. would “naturally respond” to any threats originated from the Solomons.
The SPacific price
The Pacific nations assembled at the White House include observers from “Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia… Vanuatu and Nauru… Australia, New Zealand and the secretary-general of the Pacific Island Forum,” reported AP.
“This summit reflects our deep, enduring partnership with the Pacific Islands; one that’s underpinned by shared history, values, and enduring people-to-people ties,” Blinken told leaders as he opened the summit, in what is a truly astonishing claim considering his office’s historic avoidance of the region.
Some countries in the Pacific are literally sinking, and so the opening discussions apparently touched on climate, but included other issues, including China.
The summit is aimed at hopefully bribing as many nations as possible to sign what the Australian Broadcasting Company termed “an 11-point declaration,” but which a senior White House official called “a joint statement”.
“We recognized that we had powerful, strategic, historical, moral, humanitarian, environmental interests across the Pacific; many good friends and supporters and allies who had been with us for decades,” the official explained.
Political scientists can argue the differences between a bribe and a quid-pro-quo in international relations but the official explained that large U.S. government departments like commerce and state went “on listening tours to hear from the perspectives of the Pacific about areas that they want the United States to do more,” which is certainly clear reading from a political perspective.
Regarding the joint statement, Sogavare, who just 7 days earlier was in New York for the 77th UN General Assembly Meeting giving a scathing defense of his country’s agreement with China sent a note along from the Embassy in Washington that “Solomons does state it won’t be able to sign the declaration but it doesn’t call on others to follow suit”.
The Pacific islands are small, but they aren’t foolish. They understand that in some cases, their very existence depends on whether they can get cooperation from large nations who only look their way when they’re vacuumed up by regional strategic competition.
As a group that prioritizes regional unity, the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s own diplomatic union, lashed out at the U.S. for not inviting all the Forum’s members. The Cook Islands and French Territories were left out, as were the Marshall Islands, who have been bitterly fighting for reparations for the U.S. nuclear testing done in its territorial waters during the Cold War.
This got so heated, US News reports, that the joint statement/summit declaration text couldn’t be agreed on after the U.S. demanded the removal of language agreed to by the island countries that Washington address the Marshall Islands’ nuclear issue.
The whole situation resembles the poorly-executed Summit of the Americas in California this year, where the U.S. decided not to invite Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, which prompted huge backlash and boycotts from the Mexican and Argentinian presidents.
The Solomons also pointed out that the Pacific Islands Forum has a mechanism for engaging with partners outside the region, and it doesn’t involve assembling at the White House for a first-of-its kind summit.
Analysts see major questions being raised, and going unanswered.
“The first questions from the islands to the United States are, ‘Is this going to last beyond the current tense cycle? Are you going to keep showing up,?’” said Darshana Baruah, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The second question is, ‘What kind of messaging is this sending across the Indo-Pacific? Are you mistakenly giving the impression that if you want Washington’s attention you must grab Beijing’s purse?’”
The Blue Pacific Partnership
These questions are important, as among the scrambling during post-China/Solomons deal period, the U.S. announced to the UN they had formed a “Partners in the Blue Pacific” which “aims to support the Pacific region and its priorities more effectively and efficiently,” and that “will enhance our existing efforts to support Pacific priorities”.
This was signed off by the Pacific nations of the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and extended invitations to Canada, the UK, and even Germany. The partnership included 0 of the island nations, and aimed to pledge $2.1 billion for climate and techno-resilience, “people centered, resource and economic development,” and political leadership.
More skepticism abounds, with O’Brien noting “Canada, despite its extensive Pacific coast, does not have a substantial history with the Pacific Islands. However, the Canadian government’s involvement in the Pacific at this point in time comes as Canadian companies are leading deeply divisive deep-sea mining efforts”.
The Development Policy Center, a Pacific islands think tank devoted to Pacific-first policy, sees the Partners in the Blue Pacific as a method to run “roughshod” over the region’s processes.
“We find the PBP initiative deceptive, controlling and hypocritical,” the center wrote recently, noting the complete co-opting of the region’s own “cherished” project.
“Whose Blue Pacific agenda? Is it now a shared agenda? The Blue Pacific is the region’s cherished narrative…[it] counters the framing of the Pacific exclusively as a site for geopolitical competition and incorporation into the Indo-Pacific project,” they continue.
On that point they aren’t wrong, the Pacific nations are doing whatever they can to try and protect themselves from a climate that’s definitely changing, including by introducing a “Non-proliferation of Fossil Fuels” treaty to the UN, which will likely be voted down by all members of the Partners in the Blue Pacific, and many more besides.
Foreign policy and conflict writer Daniel Larison recently noted, remembering the Solomon Islands agreement with China, that “it has simply been taken for granted in some circles that the US and Australia have the right to dictate how the Solomon Islands conducts its foreign and security policies, and states in the “free and open Indo-Pacific” are free to do as they like only as long as they do what Washington and Canberra endorse”.
Everything the Biden Administration has done over the last 5 months has been symptomatic of America’s foreign policy in the 21st century. Consumed by partisanship domestically, no administration can hold the great whale of international influence and war-making on course. Instead it flails reactionarily at every perceived injustice to its “allies and partners” and “regional interests” which include wide swaths of people and cultures it doesn’t know or have any long-term intention of helping or knowing.
The Trump Administration officially changed America’s security posture towards China and the Indo-Pacific, introducing terms like “great power competition,” and “Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” into the national security lexicon. But despite that, the country was completely caught by surprise when a country that hadn’t hosted a chief U.S. official in 37 years signed an agreement with a regional rival.
Then, preoccupied with Ukraine, the great D.C. whale hoved itself around toward a country and a region it knew nothing about, without any accuracy or overall diplomatic strategy, managing to engage and insult in equal measure.
Taken with Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel in the summer, and the Summit of the Americas, the Pacific Island Nation Summit is a failure, as have been all major diplomatic undertakings of the Biden Administration.