WASHINGTON (THE HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER) — A group of lawmakers in the Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus led by U.S representative Ed Case reintroduced legislation last Wednesday calling for a significant increase in American engagement with Pacific island countries as China and the United States compete for influence in the region.
“The peoples of these islands have developed their own proud cultures and identity over millennia, and for centuries now have shared historic, cultural, economic and strategic ties with the United States,” Case said in a statement.
“Tens of thousands of U.S and allied service members died throughout the Pacific Islands in World War Two defending the common values shared between our country and the Pacific Islands. Our presents and futures are entwined.”
The Boosting Long-term U.S Engagement in the Pacific Act—or BLUE Pacific Act—has long been a pet project for Case. The lawmaker traveled across the region speaking to Pacific island leaders as he crafted the bill.
In 2019 Case co-founded the Pacific Islands Caucus with four other lawmakers in an effort to promote a more active Pacific island policy and first introduced the legislation in 2020. As the country found itself gripped with COVID-19 and civil unrest, the proposed bill fell to the wayside. But since then American policymakers have turned more and more attention to Pacific island countries as Chinese investment grows and Beijing pursues a series of trade and security agreements across Oceania.
In 2021 Case reintroduced the bill with vocal support from Pacific island leaders. While it didn’t pass, many proposals and millions of dollars in funding in the BLUE Pacific Act made their way into the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act.
In 2022 the U.S opened embassies in the Solomon Islands and Kiribati—two countries whose leaders have in recent years begun turning increasingly to Beijing and strengthening ties—and President Joe Biden hosted a historic U.S-Pacific island summit with leaders and officials from 12 Pacific island nations, as well as the leaders of the leaders of French Polynesia and New Caledonia.
Case said that the latest version of the bill “updates our prior versions to account for portions already enacted through other vehicles as well as the historic U.S-Pacific Islands Summit.”
The bill calls for the U.S to continue increasing its diplomatic presence in the region, deepen security ties to combat transnational crime and illegal fishing, and increase trade and support for development projects.
In a statement, American Samoa’s Republican congressional delegate, Aumua Amata Radewagen, who joined Case in reintroducing the bill, said “the importance of U.S engagement in the Pacific region and especially the Pacific Islands goes far beyond defense considerations, and the BLUE Pacific priorities are a great example. Diplomacy, climate resilience efforts for our beautiful ocean, encouraging the Peace Corps regionally, and recognizing development opportunities all come together.”
Officials from around the region have voiced support. In a statement backing the bill, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr touted strong relations between the U.S and Palau, and praised Case, saying “his visionary plan, the BLUE Pacific Act, promises to increase the U.S’ engagement with the other nations of the Pacific region.”
The Marshall Islands’ ambassador to the U.S, Gerald Zackios, said in a statement that “the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands applauds legislative efforts of the Pacific Islands Caucus co-chairs for re-introducing the BLUE Pacific Act, which demonstrates United States commitment to strengthen its engagement with the Pacific Islands -countries.”
New Zealand’s Ambassador Bede Corry said in a statement that “taking a holistic and long-term approach alongside our partners is essential to achieve these priorities. We believe the BLUE Pacific Act would bolster these efforts for the critical years ahead, said Corry…. PACNEWS