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US President Joe Biden with Pacific leaders outside the White House.

US President Joe Biden with Pacific leaders outside the White House.

Photo/Facebook

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‘You will never lose your statehood’: US inks new relationship with Niue and Cook Islands

The United States is hosting Pacific leaders in Washington and bolstering investment in the region, but not everyone’s along for the ride.

Ruci Farrell
Ruci Farrell
Published
26 September 2023, 12:53pm
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The United States president is hosting Pacific leaders at the White House this morning along with major funding promises, and a new status for realm countries.

Pacific leaders have been invited as a group to the White House, a move initiated to reboot relations in the region as the US competes with China for influence.

Completing a promise from last year's inaugural Pacific Leaders Summit, President Joe Biden recognised Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign and independent states.

“We hear your calls for reassurance that you never, never, never will lose your statehood or membership of the UN as a result of the climate crisis, and the United States is making it clear this is our position as well.”

At the joint statement signing this morning​, US State Secretary Anthony Blinken says it’s a day for the history books.

“It opens a new and very exciting chapter in our relationship. It, in a sense, reinforces what’s already there, because the relationship even in the absence of this recognition has been long and enduring, but I think this is a way to deepen even more the bonds that join us together.” ​

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Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown (left) with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at today's signing. Photo/Screenshot

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown (left) with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at today's signing. Photo/Screenshot

​Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says this is a culmination of years of hard work, dedication and the "unwavering commitment of our people to forge our own, sovereign path".

“This will open doors to exciting opportunities and foster greater cooperation and partnerships on a global scale.

“This is not just a symbolic gesture. For the Cook Islands today, it is a critical step towards our development aspirations.”

Pacific leaders met with US President Joe Biden. Photo/Facebook

Pacific leaders met with US President Joe Biden. Photo/Facebook

Earlier this morning, Niue premier Dalton Tagelagi said it was a historic day.

“Today we celebrate shared history, common values, and people-to-people ties between our two nations.

“We have a small community of U.S. citizens living in Niue, and I believe we also have a community of Niueans who have chosen to make your country their home. May our friendly relations extend to the respect and care of our peoples.”

​Pacific leaders negotiate support for the region

Over the next two days, the United States is set to affirm their commitment to working with the Pacific in climate crisis, economic growth, and illegal and unreported fishing, with President Biden announcing a suite of multi-billion dollar packages including $40 million towards infrastructure and $600 million to support the fisheries sector.

Mark Brown, also the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, hopes to harness US support in reaching the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy goals.

“For the Pacific, access to development and climate finance is the only way to achieve meaning change at the grassroots level and at a national level.

“Let us remember that our people at home must feel connected to the decisions that we make here. Mr President, our strategy calls for more engaging and effective partner coordination.”

​Missing in action

Notably absent from the summit is Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who spoke at the UN general assembly this weekend, praising China's global security initiative.

“We applaud the People's Republic of China in accelerating the implementation of the 2030 agenda through their Belt and Road Initiative, Global development initiative, Global Security initiative and Global civilization initiative.

“During my discussions with President Xi Jinping in Solomon Islands, China established a comprehensive strategic framework that aims to achieve our national development strategy.”