Report to Congress on the Pacific Islands

August 18, 2022 7:37 AM

The following is the Aug. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, The Pacific Islands.

From the report

The Pacific Islands region in the Southwest Pacific has emerged as an area of keen interest to major powers, largely due to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) expanding engagement in the region. The region has strategic significance for the United States and hosts key U.S. military installations. Congressional considerations include bolstering diplomacy in the region, funding assistance in such areas as climate change, sustainable fisheries, and economic development, addressing security threats posed by China, and extending economic and other assistance for the Freely Associated States (see below).

Some Pacific Island countries (PICs), such as Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji, are relatively large with extensive natural resources; others are quite small, sitting on top of low-lying coral atolls, with limited economic prospects and high vulnerability to the effects of climate change and sea level rise. PICs were among the first countries to ratify the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. PIC leaders agreed on an expanded concept of security in the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security, which states that climate change remains “the single greatest threat” to the Pacific. Over half of the world’s tuna is harvested in the region. Many PICs rely on fisheries, tourism, and remittances for revenue. Although their remoteness helped most PICs to minimize Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections, travel and border restrictions have disrupted tourism and trade.

In February 2022, Antony Blinken visited Fiji, the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit the country in 26 years, as part of an effort to bolster U.S. engagement in the region. Blinken pledged assistance to the Pacific Islands on climate change, illegal fishing, and COVID-19 vaccines. In May 2022, Fiji became the first PIC to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an initiative launched by the Biden Administration to bolster U.S. economic engagement in the region. In August 2022, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman made stops in Samoa, the Solomon Islands (SI), and Tonga, as well as Australia and New Zealand, and participated in discussions to hear PIC priorities for cooperation with the United States. In 2022, the U.S. government announced plans to build new embassies in Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga, and to appoint a U.S. Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the region’s main multilateral organization. Bills in the 117th Congress that support these efforts include S. 4648 and S. 4650.

Download the document here.

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