WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pacific island countries will meet next week with U.S. President Joe Biden for a second summit with his country, the secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna said on Monday.
Puna made the announcement at an event in New York hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the timing of the summit, which U.S. officials have previously said would be held in September.
“It’s something that we’re very much looking forward to as a region, engaging with the U.S. at the highest levels,” Puna said.
“Currently our senior officials are in negotiations with Washington over the outcomes that we would like to see when we meet with President Biden next week,” he said.
“I’m very hopeful that those outcomes will translate into concrete actions moving forward, because right now, there’s a lot of issues and challenges confronting our Pacific region. Apart from climate change, there’s our economic recovery from COVID-19,” Puna added.
He said the Pacific island region had gone from a period of strategic neglect just a decade ago to become a subject of strategic interest, competition and “manipulation” today, a reference to the geopolitical rivalry for influence in the region between the United States and China.
“We must realize that the strategic interest and attention we enjoy today will not last forever, and we must capitalize on it in a manner that will ensure sustainable gains for our region and for our people, for decades to come,” Puna said.
He said the stance of the Pacific island countries had been clear: “we will engage with any partner who is willing to work with us, rather than around us.”
Biden hosted a first summit with Pacific island leaders a year ago, at which his administration pledged to help stave off China’s “economic coercion,” and he promised to work harder with allies and partners to address islanders’ needs.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Mark Porter and Andrea Ricci)
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