US’ new aid to Pacific Islands Countries to end up as lip service, reflecting Washington’s hegemonic motives
Published: Sep 26, 2023 09:01 PM
US President Joe Biden walks past flags of Pacific nations after a group photo with Pacific Islands Forum leaders at the White House in Washington on Sept. 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

US President Joe Biden walks past flags of Pacific nations after a group photo with Pacific Islands Forum leaders at the White House in Washington on Sept. 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

Although US President Joe Biden made new pledges of supporting Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) with $200 million in funding for projects in the region and recognized two regional countries as "sovereign and independent" states during the second US-Pacific Islands Forum Summit, some Chinese experts said on Tuesday that achieving sustainable development cannot be solved by just providing a sum of money, particularly when those commitments could well end up as lip service. 

Some Pacific Islands leaders gathered Monday for the start of a two-day Washington summit, and at its start, Biden said his administration is requesting US Congress to approve $200 million in new assistance for the region, including financing to help the islands prepare for climate and natural hazards and improve infrastructure, the AP reported. 

As part of the summit, the US is also formally establishing diplomatic relations with two South Pacific nations, the Cook Islands and Niue.

At the last year's summit, the White House unveiled its Pacific strategy and pledged that the US would add $810 million in new aid for the PICs over the next decade, including $130 million on efforts to stymie the impacts of climate change.

"In terms of the commitment made last year, no promises were fulfilled. The only thing the US has done over the past year was establish embassies and offices in the island nations to strengthen ties, and the most proactive action it took was to dispatch the Coast Guard to patrol in the region to enhance its military presence," Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries of Liaocheng University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Proposing an additional $200 million to the 2022 commitment is still "a drop in the ocean" for the 14 PICs, and it remains uncertain when it will be allocated, the expert said. 

Speaking to Pacific Islands leaders in the White House on Monday, Biden invoked America's WWII campaign against Japan in the region, and, without naming China, implied that another kind of battle was now under way, The New York Times said.

When Biden mentions WWII history, it evokes memories of the local islanders being exploited and even mistreated by the US, Chen Hong, executive director of the Asia Pacific Studies Centre at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"Such rhetoric only reinforces the notion that the US adopts a condescending approach toward these nations, revealing an arrogant stance that serves its hegemonic objectives," Chen said. 

For instance, the Marshall Islands was a testing ground for the US nuclear program after WWII, and 3.1 million cubic feet of US-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium, was deposited there causing hazardous contamination and long-lasting health risks to the islands and its innocent residents. 

Over the past year, the US has opened embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga, and plans to open one early next year in Vanuatu, according to media reports. 

As the US officially recognized the two island nations - the Cook Islands and Niue, some experts said those two nations have long been independent and have close ties with New Zealand, hence the US did not pay much attention.

"By now acknowledging them, the US seems to give high importance even to the smallest of island nations, reflecting the US' determination to maintain its geostrategic competition and military hegemony in the region," Yu said. 

While some island leaders have been critical of developed countries for "not doing enough to fight climate change" and for profiting from loans provided to vulnerable countries to mitigate the effects, some leaders highly praised China's transformative partnership model, including several initiatives China proposed. 

We call on all to adopt China's transformative partnership model, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare said on Friday at the general debate of the UN General Assembly. 

"If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime," which vividly showcases the cooperation between Chinese companies and island countries, Yu said. "This is a more reliable and sustainable path to help them to achieve economic self-reliance."