Biden announces new diplomatic ties with two Pacific Island nations

President Joe Biden announced new diplomatic relations with two Pacific Island nations, the Cook Islands and Niue, on Monday.

The announcement comes during the president’s second annual, two-day summit hosting Pacific Island leaders at the White House. The move is part of the administration’s focus to counter China’s influence in the region.

Biden said in a statement Monday that the new relations with the two nations would deepen the United States’ cooperation in addressing climate change, protecting maritime borders and marine resources, and advancing “a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

A senior administration official said in a call with reporters outlining the summit that while there was no question that China’s “assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has been a factor that requires us to sustain our strategic focus,” the administration is focused on showing Pacific Island nations its work with “like-minded partners” can create “viable alternatives that will work for Pacific island nations.”

The summit begins with Biden welcoming the leaders to the White House on Monday morning followed by a working lunch. In the afternoon, Biden’s special envoy for climate change, John Kerry, will join the leaders for discussions on the issue, the senior administration official said.

Monday evening, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will host a dinner at the State Department, where the Cook Islands and Niue are expected to be recognized diplomatically.

The summit continues Tuesday, when Kerry will host a breakfast with U.S.Agency for International Development head Samantha Power, the Pacific Island leaders and the philanthropic community to further discuss climate change. The visiting leaders will also meet with members of Congress and attend a roundtable with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on trade and investment, the senior official said.

Beyond the diplomatic welcome to the Cook Islands and Niue, Biden will look to open an embassy in Vanuatu by “early next year,” the senior official said. The administration will also announce multi-million-dollar projects in infrastructure across the Pacific Island nations, including an undersea cable project to strengthen internet connectivity, the official said.

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