The absence of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from the second summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden with leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum at the White House has raised questions about the nature of U.S. engagement in the region. While the U.S. expresses disappointment over Sogavare’s non-attendance, Chinese experts argue that American aid to the Pacific may be driven more by geopolitical strategy than the genuine needs of the people in the region. This article delves into the evolving dynamics of U.S.-China competition in the Pacific and how it is perceived by regional leaders and experts.
Sogavare’s Call for a Transformative Partnership Model
During a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Prime Minister Sogavare of the Solomon Islands advocated for adopting China’s transformative partnership model. He emphasized the value of South-South cooperation, citing it as less restrictive, more responsive, and better aligned with national needs. Sogavare’s endorsement of China’s initiatives resonates with a growing sentiment among Pacific Island countries. It highlights their pursuit of alternative avenues for development and cooperation that may not necessarily align with the United States’ strategic objectives.
Chen Hong, executive director at the Asia Pacific Studies Centre of East China Normal University, argues that the U.S.-hosted summit is losing recognition among Pacific Island countries. He suggests that the U.S. approach, which involves summoning leaders to the White House for a banquet, lacks respect for the dignity of each sovereign nation. It raises questions about whether the U.S. is genuinely addressing the region’s concerns and needs or merely pursuing its own geopolitical agenda.
U.S. Disappointment and Strategic Goals
In response to Sogavare’s absence, a Biden Administration official expressed disappointment, underscoring the significance the U.S. attaches to the summit. President Biden’s engagement with Pacific Island countries is part of a broader effort to counter China’s influence in the region. The U.S. aims to reaffirm its commitment to shared regional priorities and strengthen its partnerships in the Pacific.
Chen Hong contends that the U.S. hosts the summit with the objective of bringing Pacific Island countries into its orbit. He argues that U.S. assistance often involves transplanting Western political systems and does not adequately address the region’s pressing issues, such as improving livelihoods and addressing climate change. From this perspective, the U.S. is perceived as using the Pacific Island countries as tools to contain and undermine cooperation with China.
China’s Approach to Pacific Engagement
China’s approach to the Pacific differs significantly from that of the U.S. Chinese experts highlight the country’s emphasis on practical cooperation and win-win development. China recently entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership with the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, with both nations committing to concrete cooperation in areas such as industry revitalization, infrastructure development, food self-sufficiency, and livelihood improvement. This cooperative approach is seen as a model of South-South cooperation, demonstrating China’s commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships with regional countries.
The absence of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from the second Pacific Islands Summit hosted by the U.S. has generated discussion about the motivations behind U.S. engagement in the Pacific. While the U.S. seeks to counter China’s influence and strengthen its partnerships, some experts argue that its approach may not fully align with the region’s needs and aspirations. In contrast, China’s focus on practical cooperation and win-win development is gaining traction among Pacific Island nations, presenting an alternative vision for the region’s future. The evolving dynamics of U.S.-China competition in the Pacific will continue to shape the region’s geopolitical landscape and the choices made by its leaders.