President Biden is hosting Pacific Island leaders for a second annual summit in Washington that’s part of his administration’s strategy to counter China in the Asia Pacific.
The two-day US-Pacific Islands Forum Summit kicked off Monday and started with President Biden announcing the US would recognize and establish diplomatic relations with two small island nations: Niue and the Cook Island islands, both associated states of New Zealand but self-governing.
Niue is a small island with a population of just over 1,600, and the Cook Islands is comprised of 15 islands and has a population of around 15,000. In a statement on the recognition, President Biden noted that the US military built runways on the Cook Islands during World War II.
President Biden said establishing relations with both nations will help advance “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a term US officials use when discussing efforts against China in the region. The US has been working on expanding its military presence in the Pacific to prepare for a future war with China, which includes an agreement signed earlier this year with Papua New Guinea that grants the US access to the country’s airports and sea ports.
The US is also expanding its military presence in Australia and extending agreements to maintain military access to the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia. US Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach recently said the purpose of the expansion is to give China more areas it will need to target in a future war. He also said the Air Force is clearing out jungles in the Pacific to build new airfields and restore old ones.
The summit in Washington is being attended by representatives from 18 Pacific nations: Australia, Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.