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Trump to host Pacific leaders for first time in history

WASHINGTON (The Australian/Pacnews) — President Donald Trump will host three Pacific Island leaders at the White House for the first time in history as part of a new and concerted push to boost American involvement in the region in the face of a rising China.

The administration said it would seek to boost this U.S presence in lock-step with Australia and other western allies.

The news coincided with the release of major new report which called for the U.S. to boost its “inadequate” diplomatic presence across the Pacific and to invest more in infrastructure and telecommunications to counter China’s growing economic presence in the region.

“The United States should expand its diplomatic footprint … which is inadequate given the region’s strategic importance,” says the report called Strengthening the U.S.-Pacific Islands Partnership released by Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS.

“The U.S should consider establishing diplomatic missions in all countries in the region starting with the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,” the report said.

“The U.S should work with other like-minded nations who share interests in the Pacific Islands such as Japan and Australia to build connectivity, resilience and other critical needs.”

The U.S and Australia have been increasingly critical of China’s efforts to spread its influence across the Pacific by establishing economic footholds with small island nations which are then manipulated by Beijing to exert strategic influence.

“The Trump administration should be commended for its policy approach to the South Pacific, following a lengthy period in which Washington assumed the South Pacific to be strategically benign,” Patrick Buchan, director, U.S Alliances at CSIS told The Australian.

“President Trump hosting regional leaders at the White House is the strongest political signal yet that the United States is deeply committed to countering the growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific.”

To increase its focus on the region, the Trump administration created the first ever position within the National Security Council devoted to the Pacific Islands.

Alex Gray, the NSC’s director for Oceania & Indo-Pacific Security said today that Trump would “make history next week’ by hosting the three leaders of the Freely Associated States of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia in Washington.

“This reflects the unique partnership that we have with the FAS and the commitment from President Trump on down to growing and deepening it as one of our highest Pacific priorities,” Gray told a function at the CSIS.

“The Trump administration is committed to a broad-based engagement with the Pacific Island in areas of interest not just to us but also to the islands themselves and that includes working in concert with allies and partners like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France and others.”

The U.S. has recently sent some if its most senior officials to the Pacific to consult with Island leaders, including the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Randy Schriver and also Matthew Pottinger, senior director for Asian Affairs at the NSC.

The CSIS report said the rise of China and its growing influence in the Pacific has led the U.S to pay more attention to the region than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

“The focus on strategic competition with China has led the Trump administration to pay more attention to the Pacific Islands,” the report said.

“While Chinese interest is not new — China has long been a suitor of Pacific Island nations in the context of competition with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition — the depth and breadth of its new engagement is striking.”

It said the “greatest strategic concern” was the potential for the People’s Liberation Army to establish a permanent presence in the region.

“(This) would have major implications for U.S and Australian defense planners,” it said. “A Chinese military footprint in the Pacific Islands, sitting astride sea lanes running from Australia to Hawaii, could enable China to project power beyond the second island chain and severely complicate the ability of the U.S. Navy to control Pacific waters of vital strategic interest.”