Blinken says US delivering for Pacific islands despite China's reach

AFP , Saturday 4 May 2024

The United States, boosted by allies and the private sector, is delivering for Pacific islands even if Washington alone cannot match China's growing footprint, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Friday.

Adm. Stephen Koehler, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, meets with Adm. Hu Zhongming, right
Adm. Stephen Koehler, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, meets with Adm. Hu Zhongming, right, commander of the People s Liberation Army Navy, at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, China, April 21, 2024. AP


Blinken spoke after lawmakers in Solomon Islands, whose warming security relationship with China has sparked alarm in the United States and Australia, choose another Beijing-friendly prime minister.

"China covers a lot of ground in the Pacific Islands, maybe more ground that we can cover ourselves," Blinken told the McCain Institute's Sedona Forum in Arizona.

But he said that by partnering with like-minded Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and India, "we cover a lot of ground."

"You're seeing that play out in our ability to help deliver some of the things that people in those countries want," Blinken said.

"It is often more effective to say to a country -- we're not asking you to choose, we want to give you a better choice."

He pointed to an initiative -- announced at a summit last year between President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese -- in which Google is building trans-Pacific cables to improve internet connectivity in South Pacific countries.

The high-speed cables are an alternative to those on offer from China, whose tech companies have been increasingly active in the South Pacific.

Tensions have eased between the United States and China, with Blinken last month visiting Beijing for the second time in less than a year, but the Biden administration has declared China to be the top long-term rival to US global leadership.

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