US NEWS: Joe Biden to host White House summit on Pacific island

NUKU’ALOFA, TONGA: US President Joe Biden will host Pacific island leaders at the White House in September, a senior US diplomat said on Saturday, deepening a regional charm offensive against growing Chinese influence.

On a visit to Tonga, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the leaders would be invited to Washington for a meeting and dinner later in the month.

“This meeting will be a historic opportunity for the United States and Pacific Island countries to hear and listen in a Pacific way,” Sherman said.

The move comes amid a flurry of US space shuttle diplomacy that seeks to strengthen alliances in the Pacific against a more assertive Beijing.

Washington has announced it will open several new diplomatic missions in the region and has been more vocal and visible in recent months.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited and Vice President Kamala Harris recently gave a major speech at the Pacific Islands Forum.

On Saturday, Sherman will participate in a series of events in the neighboring Solomon Islands marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal.

The Solomon Islands are at the center of a renewed rivalry in the South Pacific between Beijing and Washington.

In April, China signed an undisclosed security pact with the island nation, alarming Western allies.

The deal, which critics fear could lead to China gaining a military foothold in the South Pacific, is likely to be on the agenda for a US visit.

Also up for discussion may be a series of decisions by Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavar, which appear to reflect China’s authoritarian style of governance.

Sogavare proceeded to censor public broadcasting, threatened other media, and repeatedly delayed planned elections.

During a visit to Tonga, Sherman highlighted the potential local impact of China’s recent decision to suspend climate talks with the United States. This was prompted by a visit to Taiwan by top Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

“For Tonga, climate change is existential, and we understand that. And it’s disappointing that the world’s biggest emitter right now, and the country that needs to commit to getting to 1.5 degrees Celsius, has now withdrawn from that discussion,” Sherman said.

Under the terms of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, nations are trying to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Rising sea levels are a major concern in the region, where many countries sit just a few feet above sea level and are already feeling the effects of climate change.

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