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China’s Pacific Islands strategy gives US concern: report

To counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the US should step up support for island nations, a new report says.

China has made strides in the Pacific Islands as an area of ​​strategic interest that it has been unable to match elsewhere in the world, according to a new report by a US Congress-funded think tank.

Advancing China’s geostrategic goals among Pacific nations should be cause for concern — but not concern — for Washington, according to the United States Institute for Peace report released Tuesday, co-authored by former senior military officials.

To counter China’s growing influence in the region, the US should increase its support for North Pacific island nations, where it had the strongest historical ties, the report suggests.

“Chinese officials have not publicly stated that the Pacific Islands region is an area of ​​heightened strategic interest, but the benefits of increased Beijing engagement in the region are clear,” the report said.

“Perhaps more than any other geographic area, the Pacific Islands offer China a low-investment, high-reward opportunity to achieve symbolic, strategic, and tactical victories in the pursuit of its global agenda.”

The report comes ahead of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and a dozen Pacific Island leaders next week as Washington seeks to compete with Beijing for influence.

The Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau are sovereign nations known as the Freely Associated States (FAS) that signed treaties in the late 1980s giving the US defense responsibility and the right to have military bases in those areas.

Those deals, which expire in 2023 and 2024, are currently being renegotiated by the US, and the report warned that if negotiations with Washington fail, the affected states could seek funding from China.

“The vast territorial seas of the FAS, spanning much of the northern Pacific, are an important strategic buffer between US defenses at Guam and Hawaii and East Asian coastal waters,” says the report, co-authored by Philip Davidson. a former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command; and David Stilwell, a former US Deputy Secretary of State.

If Beijing were to bring one of the FAS states into its sphere, “it would jeopardize US military capabilities in a strategically important geographic command area and open the door to a broader reorganization of regional architecture with implications well beyond the Pacific region.” . says the report.

A US missile defense test site in the Marshall Islands is critical to US space and missile defense capabilities, the report added.

Washington must offer an alternative to Chinese economic aid to “counter Beijing’s efforts to capitalize on regional perceptions of neglect and abandonment,” the report said.

More resources were also needed to monitor China’s increasing activity in the FAS, where Chinese research vessels with “military utility” have been spotted moving without permission.

The Federated States of Micronesia recently agreed to develop new US military facilities, and Palau has called on the US to build airstrips, ports and bases, which “Washington should give serious consideration to, to the extent that it meets defense needs,” states in the report.

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