The US strategy to counter China in the Pacific could be a $1bn misstep

After decades of ambivalence, the United States plans to expand its footprint in the Pacific islands region. Photograph: Ken Cedeno/EPA

The US is proposing big spending, but initiatives are designed to undermine China rather than address actual needs on the islands

THE GUARDIANGerard Finin and Terence Wesley-Smith

After decades of ambivalence, the United States plans to expand its footprint in the Pacific islands region to dimensions larger than at any time since the second world war.

But the Biden administration may be on the brink of embracing a flawed foreign policy initiative spanning almost one-third of the globe.

Legislation before Congress, proposes spending as much as $1bn annually in the 14 sovereign Pacific island nations.

China takes more by weight of these resources than the next 10 countries combined.

Policies address a laundry-list of issues, ranging from youth engagement, democratic governance, economic development, and public health, to climate change resilience, maritime security, and disaster preparedness.Advertisement

The explicit purpose of this increased engagement is to counter challenges by China to US preeminence in the Pacific and beyond. It is problematic because it is motivated by security concerns not necessarily shared by island leaders, who see climate change, not China, as the major threat to Pacific futures.

Equally problematic, the initiatives are conceived in zero-sum terms, designed to undermine Chinese influence rather than address the critical needs and priorities of island nations themselves. Island leaders do not want to be forced to choose between China and the US, or to be played as pawns. Rather they wish to chart their own course. Sadly, what the architects of these initiatives fail to appreciate is that US policy could, through genuine consultations with island leaders, be crafted to achieve meaningful long-term engagement.



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