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Pacific News Minute: Biden seeks to improve regional relations amid concerns about China

Joe Biden, Louis Mapou, Siaosi Sovaleni, Surangel Whipps Jr., Kausea Natano, David Panuelo, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Manasseh Sogavare, James Marape, David Kabua, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, Edouard Fritch, Mark Brown
Susan Walsh/AP
President Joe Biden, center, poses for a photo with Pacific Island leaders on the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. From left, New Caledonia President Louis Mapou, Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano, Micronesia President David Panuelo, Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Biden, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, Marshall Islands President David Kabua, Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, French Polynesia President Edouard Fritch and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden says the United States is committed to increasing its presence in the Pacific Islands. That was his message last week to visiting leaders from 14 countries in the region.

The White House is looking to improve relations in the Pacific amid U.S. concern about China’s growing military and economic influence.

Biden pledged that the U.S. would add $810 million in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million on efforts to combat climate change.

The president also unveiled the outline of a White House plan to assist the region's leaders.

The 16-page document mentions expanding the number of U.S. diplomatic missions from six to nine across the Pacific. It also discusses the renewal of agreements with Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands that will soon expire — the Compacts of Free Association.

The Associated Press reports White House officials acknowledge that U.S. inattentiveness toward the region since the end of the Cold War left an opening for China to exert its influence.

The Solomon Islands earlier this year signed a new security pact with Beijing. Prior to the summit, the country signaled it would be hesitant to sign any end-of-summit statement critical of China.

But in the end, the Solomon Islands signed on to the joint declaration. The statement instead included calls for strengthening the Pacific economy, tackling climate change, and maintaining peace and security across the Pacific. But it avoided any direct mention of China.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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