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Biden envied visiting the Marshall Islands as U.S. concerns grew about China's Pacific push

Biden envied visiting the Marshall Islands as U.S. worries about China

June 9, 2022: -President Joe Biden’s being envious of three tiny but strategically important Pacific Island nations will lead a delegation to the Marshall Islands in the coming week between growing U.S. worries regarding China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region.

In March, Joseph Yun, a veteran diplomat appointed by Biden, told Reuters he and his team would be in the Marshall Islands from June 14 to 16.

The U.S. State Department spokesperson said Yun would hold talks on the Compact of Free Association (COFA) governing U.S. economic assistance for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), which will expire in the coming year.

The United States similarly agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, which expire in 2023 and 2024, and Yun is equally responsible for the negotiations.

“We welcome the opportunity for in-person meetings with the RMI negotiating team and look forward to productive talks,” the State Department spokesperson said.

The Pacific islands are emerging as a critical front in Washington’s strategic competition with China, stepping up diplomatic efforts to woo countries.

Biden and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shared concerns last week about China’s bid to expand its influence in the Pacific. A senior U.S. official said they discussed the need for engagement with Pacific island leaders.

They expressed concern about the latest security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands.

In the previous week, a virtual meeting of 10 Pacific foreign ministers was hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Fiji, agreeing to defer consideration of a Chinese proposal for a trading and security pact.

Samoa’s leader later said the pact needs to be discussed at a regional meeting before any conclusions are made.

During the Trump administration, talks to renew the U.S. COFA agreements with the Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau began but languished before Yun’s appointment, raising concerns that Washington could fail in its battle for influence with Beijing.

Critical issues for the Marshall Islands include remuneration for the legacy of a huge U.S. nuclear testing there, the presence of U.S. military bases, and climate-change mitigation.

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