In Pacific islands, US diplomatic push stirs memories of neglect

by | Jul 13, 2022 | World

As United States Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled a major ramping up of US aid and diplomacy in Pacific island countries on Wednesday, she acknowledged that they had not always received the “attention and support that you deserve”.That is a sentiment with resonance across the region’s sparsely-populated, isolated island states, which are gaining attention as battlegrounds for the heated strategic competition between the US and China after decades of being treated as a diplomatic afterthought.
For many Pacific leaders, the US’s renewed engagement with their region is welcome, if long overdue.
Most Pacific island nations, which are meeting at an ongoing leaders’ summit in Fiji, have a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of less than $5,000, lack basic infrastructure, and lag developed economies in indicators such as life expectancy, education and health.
Countries such as Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands are also among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change, lying just a few metres above sea level.
Speaking after Harris’ announcement, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the US “is certainly looking a lot more like the Pacific partner we have traditionally held it to be”.
“Obviously the US is late to the party, but as they say, better late than never,” Robert Bohn, an adviser to Vanuatu’s …

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