Koror- Discussions on the United States military presence in the Pacific is high on the agenda of the historic meeting today between President Donald Trump and three presidents of tiny Pacific island-nations of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Presidents of the freely associated states (FAS) in the Western Pacific: President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr, of the Republic of Palau; President Hilda C. Heine of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI); and President David W. Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is meeting Trump for talks on boosting its relationship with the US.
The meeting is being held amid China’s growing influence in the Pacific, and with China and the US 's relationship sliding over the blacklisting of Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei over national security concerns.
In a press briefing Tuesday morning, US senior administration officials said President Trump is “directing, really, an unprecedented level of focus on the Pacific Islands, and that’s in recognition of the fact that the United States is a Pacific nation with immutable strategic, economic, cultural, and people-to-people links to these islands.”
The U.S. involvement with these island nations dates back to 1944 as a strategic location during the Second World War. US has a special relationship with these three countries under the terms of the so-called Compact of Freely Associated States (COFA).
The US provides a package of financial assistance in return for the exclusive right to operate military bases on the islands.
With China continuing to expand its military in the region, US is stepping up its engagement of its Indo-Pacific strategy.
In the press briefing, the US officials did not want to say that the purpose of the meeting was to counter China expansionism but rather reaffirm that the U.S. remains a “Pacific power” and is meeting the presidents to “ talk about areas of mutual interest between the Freely Associated States members and the United States.”
Trump, the official said, will recommit to “longstanding partnerships” with the three nations. The US officials said the talk will not only center on militarization but also om the Indo-Pacific strategy development assistance, to boost private investment in the Pacific.
President Trump signed the $60 billion Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development (BUILD) Act into law in 2018, which will help finance developing countries such as Pacific nations address infrastructure challenges.
The officials said under the new law, there will be an increasing number of projects that are underwritten and will be led and co-sponsored by the U.S. Development Finance Corporation.
The US will also partner with Australia and Japan as co-investors and that Papua New Guinea will be one of first Pacific country to benefit through an electrification project.
Palau President Tommy Remenegsau Jr. in an op-ed published by The Hill said that his country, FSM and RMI are natural allies in the Pentagon’s new Indo-Pacific strategy” and welcomes a larger U.S. armed forces and law enforcement presence in the region.Title: Trump, Pacific presidents meeting focus on enhanced US military presence. (with reports from Business Times)
Photo captions: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Presidents of the FSM, Palau, RMI meet ahead of the three leaders talks with President Donald Trump. (Photo by US Department of the Interior)