Lemanu invites U.S President to look to American Samoa to increase U.S presence in the Pacific

PAGO PAGO (SAMOA NEWS) — As Pacific nations are seeking or signing bilateral agreements with China, Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga informed the White House that this is the time for the U.S to draw on American Samoa to increase America’s presence in the Pacific region.

The governor’s comment on China was included in his 15 June letter to U.S President Joe Biden, where he opposed the federal government’s proposed expansion of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which Lemanu says will have a negative impact on the territory’s tuna industry. 

In his letter to Biden, the governor pointed out, what he describes as “Strategic Interests”, when it comes to American Samoa, that fishing prohibitions not only weaken U.S fisheries but also increase seafood imports and jeopardise U.S food and national security.

He contends that the proposed PRIMNM expansion would continue to displace the U.S fishing fleets to international waters where they must fish alongside and compete with foreign fishing fleets.

The governor claims that fishing vessels from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are regularly observed fishing the border of the U.S exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around American Samoa, Hawaii and the U.S Pacific Remote Islands.

Furthermore, China continues to build up its longline fleet in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean which has increased from around 100 vessels in 2007 to over 520 now — catching approximately 50,000 metric tons of tuna annually.

Additionally, China’s fleet also includes 73 purse seine vessels. In comparison, there are 14 U.S- flagged longline vessels and 13 U.S- flagged purse seine vessels based in American Samoa, the governor said.

“China is making a concentrated effort to integrate its economic, diplomatic, military and technological might to expand its influence throughout the Pacific,” the governor wrote to Biden.

“This approach by China appears to be very effective, as evidenced by the recent bilateral agreements made with our Pacific neighbours, including the Independent State of Samoa,” he said.

Lemanu noted that the U.S Indo-Pacific Strategy highlights concerns over China’s influence in the Pacific region and its vulnerable island countries.

And if China succeeds in using the bilateral agreements with the island nations in the Pacific region, “their heavily subsidised fishing fleets will harvest the fish supply from within the fishing zones that will be denied to the U.S fishing fleet,” he claims.

According to the governor, the U.S “is losing influence in the international fisheries management organisations,” such as the Western and Central Pacific Commission, due to weakened U.S fisheries.

He said these impacts are exacerbated by the loss of U.S fishing grounds as a result of monument designations. Deterrence of foreign fishing fleet encroachment in the U.S EEZ is compromised when U.S commercial fishing vessels are removed from 25 percent of the entire U.S. EEZ that is now under monument protection.

The governor noted that reducing fishing grounds by expanding the marine monuments would aid this Chinese expansion by forcing U.S fishing vessels out of U.S waters.

“This is the time for the United States to use American Samoa to increase the U.S presence in the Pacific region to provide security and economic development to the island nations presently seeking or signing bilateral agreements with China,” he declared.

The Associated Press reported late last month about China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who was on a stop of an eight-nation Pacific region tour, seeking to sign a multilateral deal with 10 South Pacific nations covering everything from security to fisheries. He couldn’t find consensus on that deal, but had notched up smaller wins by signing bilateral agreements with many of the countries he visited.

And this has raised concerns in Washington D.C, as well as from leaders of Australia and New Zealand — which countered China’s move by sending their top diplomats to the same Pacific nations.

The increasing presence of China in the Pacific region was one of the three key challenges that Lemanu shared with the U.S House Committee on Natural Resources during the hybrid oversight hearing last month.

Lemanu’s testimony to the U.S House committee was made prior to the Chinese foreigner minister’s tour of the Pacific region, as local residents are keen on what the U.S will do now and what role American Samoa will play going forward with China’s agreements with the affected Pacific nations…. PACNEWS

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