US launches biggest diplomatic push since World War II

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will arrive in Fiji on Wednesday for his final diplomatic mission as the US launches its largest attack on the Pacific since World War II.

Albanian will join the leaders of 17 other countries at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Suva.

The US will reveal details on Wednesday of what a senior member of the Biden administration said it “significantly stepped up its game on the Pacific islands” in a bid to counter China’s attempts to dominate the region.

US Vice President Kamala Harris will announce the new diplomatic push in a virtual speech to leaders in the Pacific. (AP)

The US will encourage Pacific leaders to counter measures from Beijing.

The incentives include increased funding for fisheries, additional aid and offers from new US embassies in the Pacific — including one in Kiribati, which appears to be moving closer to China along with the Solomon Islands.

The measures will be presented in person to Pacific leaders on Wednesday in a virtual speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris, underscoring Washington’s efforts to emphasize the importance of the Pacific to US strategy.

It’s not clear whether Kiribati’s decision to withdraw from the Pacific Island Forum this week affected the size of the US deployment.

The US has been promising greater engagement with the region for months, as China tried to negotiate a series of deals with leaders in the Pacific.

But Kiribati’s decision to go it alone while strengthening its economic and diplomatic ties with China demonstrates the depth of the region’s diplomatic challenges — and the pressures that are facing Pacific leaders as they trying to regulate their domestic and regional affairs.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, left, and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The Pacific countries are forging closer security ties with China. (AP)

“There is a clear regional and sub-regional dynamic at play,” said Anna Powles, senior lecturer at Massey University’s Center for Defense and Security Studies in New Zealand.

“What is unclear is what President Maamau’s game plan is, what he hopes to achieve by withdrawing Kiribati from the forum, and how it will benefit the people of Kiribati.”

Before going to Fiji, Albanian said Australia wanted to remain the “security partner of choice” for its neighbors in the Pacific islands.

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But there are concerns that China’s influence in the region, particularly in the Solomon Islands, threatens Australia’s place as a first-choice partner.

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