The United States is increasing its ties to the Pacific as Beijing increases its presence in the region.

US President Joe Biden will host leaders from the Pacific Islands this week in what the White House is billing as the first regional leaders’ summit in Washington, amid growing US-China competition in the Pacific. The two-day meeting will begin on September 28 and include a dinner between Biden and the meeting attendees.

Pacific leaders in Washington as the US seeks to deepen ties

The meeting was announced in June, shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began a 10-day high-level visit to eight countries in the Pacific region. “The purpose [of the summit] is not just to listen to ‘Pacific leaders,’ but to put a lot of resources on the table,” Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell told ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, recently.

“We haven’t had Pacific Island leaders in the White House,” Campbell said. “It’s not about one or two meetings. This is a sustained effort that will affect almost all the leaders in the US government who have an interest in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. The meeting is the latest in a series of US political engagements in the region this year. Speaking to the Pacific Islands Forum, the main regional group, in July, Vice President Kamala Harris said that the United States is starting a “new chapter” of cooperation in the region, opening diplomatic missions innovation and increased funding and development support. Anna Powles, an expert on Pacific security at New Zealand’s Massey University, said the opening meeting was intended to show that the United States was “committed to engagement in the Pacific”.

But he also found that the primary goal of the Biden administration – “to protect the regional strategy between Washington and the Pacific for the benefit of the group” – is clear. “This is where the surface can be loose,” he warned.


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