US creates task force to counter China influence in Pacific

By rnz.co.nz

A task force has been formed in the US House of Representatives to combat what the US regards as the rising influence of China in the US territories and Freely Associated States in the Pacific.

Photo: RNZ Pacific – Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor

Northern Marianas delegate Gregorio Sablan and American Samoa delegate Amata Radewagen have been named co-chairs.

The House Committee on Natural Resources said the Indo-Pacific Task Force will begin regular meetings to conduct oversight on issues facing the territories and states.

It will also provide policy recommendations on actions the full committee can take to advance US interests in the region and push back on the China influence throughout the Pacific.

Panel chair Bruce Westerman of Arkansas said there’s no greater threat to America’s national security and future prosperity than the continued growth of the People’s Republic of China and its influence on the world stage.

He said Beijing has built a strategy to dominate the island nations and US territories in the Pacific as a platform for the projection of its power.

“This strategy is a direct threat to our influence and economic interests in the region,” said Westerman, adding that creating this task force in an essential step in understanding all the issues at play so they can better curtail the Chinese government’s growing influence and strengthen and maintain America’s relationship with the Freely Associated States.

China said however it’s relationship with the Pacific is based on “respect and common development”.

In a position paper released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s position on the Pacific is outlined: “China and Pacific Island Countries, as developing countries, share broad common interests in safeguarding peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, upholding international equity and justice, and promoting sustainable and resilient development.”

Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia are Freely Associated States, while the Northern Marianas, Guam, and American Samoa are US territories.

National security

Raul Grijalva of Arizona said the US relationship with its territories and the states in the Indo-Pacific region was critical to national security.

“But we cannot forget that the value of our relationship with these important allies comes with the responsibility to support their economic development,” Grijalva said.

Amata Radewagen said the task force has assembled an impressive spectrum of members of Congress, an equally balanced 14-member group, with perspective from their various committees.

Radewagen said the Chinese Communist Party has decimated large swathes of the South China Sea and is ravaging the Pacific. She said China’s highly subsidised distant-water fishing fleet has been destroying fishing stocks through illegal fishing for too long.

“And we need to work with our Pacific Island partners to restore order on the high seas,” Radewagen said.

‘Judge us by our actions’

A US Government official wants Washington judged by its actions as it recommits to greater involvement in the Pacific.

Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs, Bill Russo, is one of a number of State Department officials who has been visiting Pacific nations on a familiarisation tour.

While there has been a lot of criticism about the US initiating a Cold War style militarisation to combat the influence of China, Russo said the Pacific has seen its commitment in recent weeks particularly seeking US$7.2 billion from Congress in aid for the region.

“Particularly for their Compacts of Free Association, whether it is the two embassies that we have already opened or the two new embassies that we are still looking to open in the very near term, whether it’s been climate investment, including through the resilience facility, I hope what the region sees now, and what the region continues to see is a sustained effort over years to come, will be our actions that demonstrate that we are here.”

Russo said the US is not seeking to contain China, and there is a place for China in the region.

“We just want to ensure that it subscribes to the highest possible standards of transparency, rule of law, all of that, but this is not about the US versus China, this is about our serious and sustained presence in the region with our neighbours and friends, because the US is a Pacific nation. That is just a fact of geography.”

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