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Biden hosts first Pacific Island country summit

The summit aims to boost climate change, trade and diplomatic efforts as the U.S. seeks to counter China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.

President Joe Biden hosted leaders attending the first Pacific Island summit this week as part of the administration's effort to increase U.S. engagement and investments in the region.

"A great deal of the history of our world is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years and decades, and the Pacific Islands are a critical voice in shaping that future," Biden said.

Biden will also host a dinner with the leaders, many of whom are making their first visits to the White House, a senior administration official said.

The White House released a U.S.-Pacific Island strategy Thursday, complementing an earlier release of its broader Indo-Pacific strategy and outlining Biden’s desire for a “unified government effort on Pacific issues,” the official told reporters in a call previewing the summit. The U.S. is seeking to counter China's growing military and economic influence in the region.

“The purpose of this document is to make it obviously consistent with the goals and objectives of our larger framing, but this is specifically aimed at the concerns and the objectives in the Pacific as a whole,” the official said.

“We recognized that we had powerful strategic, historical, moral, humanitarian, environmental interests across the Pacific, many good friends and supporters and allies who had been with us for decades at the United Nations and a variety of forums," the official said. "And these are all countries that ... wanted the United States to be more actively engaged."

The administration announced Thursday that it's providing more than $810 million to boost diplomatic engagement, efforts to fight climate change, trade relations and maritime security in the Pacific Islands, which is in addition to $1.5 billion the U.S. has given the region in the past decade. The administration also said the U.S. is set to recognize the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign countries, which would be historic.

The summit began Wednesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcoming Pacific Island leaders at the State Department. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and climate envoy John Kerry also met with the leaders.

The official said the administration believes it has “lapsed in our efforts to engage rising leaders across the Pacific in American institutions" and is seeking to “align strategies” with the regional Blue Pacific framework. The official referred to several “daunting challenges, including climate change, Covid recovery, overfishing, education, jobs and unexploded ordnances from World War II.”