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US establishes official ties with the Cook Islands, Niue ahead of Pacific Island summit

The United States established official ties with a pair of Pacific Island nations on Monday ahead of the start of President Biden’s summit with the region, marking the White House’s latest attempt to secure a greater American presence in the region. 

In a statement Monday, Biden said he is “proud” to announce that the U.S. officially recognizes the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign and independent states, setting Washington up for diplomatic relations between the two nations. 

The recognition of the Cook Islands will allow the U.S. to expand its partnership with the nation, which dates back to World War II when U.S. military airport runways were built in parts of the island, Biden said. 

He said he hopes this extended partnership will allow the nations to “tackle the challenges that matter most to our peoples’ lives—from countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, to combatting climate change, to building inclusive economic growth, to advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and beyond.”

With regards to Niue, the president said he hopes the U.S. can deepen its cooperation with the nation over tackling sustainable development, security, marine protection and ocean conservation in the region.

The move comes amid the White House’s continued efforts to push back on China’s growing military and economic influence in the region. Biden said the U.S. expects to work closely with the Cook Islands, Niue and other Pacific Island nations to “bolster Pacific regionalism.” 

Biden welcomed Pacific Island leaders on Monday for the start of a two-day U.S.-Pacific Island Forum Summit, where leaders will lay out the objectives of the United States’ first-ever Pacific Partnership Strategy, which was unveiled last year

The summit is slated to involve several nations including Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands and Niue. Official meetings are expected to involve Biden, senior members of the administration and members of Congress.

The summit involves the president “following up on his pledge to take our commitment and our engagement in the Pacific region to the next level,” officials said. 

Pressed over if the United States’ competition with China is behind the renewal of this engagement, officials said it is a factor. 

At the United Nations last week, Biden said he is not seeking conflict with China but warned the U.S. will “push back on aggression and intimidation.” 

Leaders of the group were set to ride a special Amtrak train from New York to Baltimore on Sunday, where they attended a Ravens game and appeared on the field to “be recognized for their roles as American friends in the Indo-Pacific.” They were expected to go on a Coast Guard ship in Baltimore later Sunday to receive a briefing on maritime issues and U.S. efforts to combat illegal fishing before attending the summit on Monday. 

Source: The Hill

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