Expect visitations by high-ranking United States officials to Palau and other Freely Associated States (FAS) and increasing number of US-cosponsored projects in the region after the recently concluded ‘historic’ meeting of FAS leaders and President Donald Trump on May 21.

US Senior Administration Officials, in a background briefing, told the media on May 21 (Palau time) that the US will be sending several senior level delegations including those at the cabinet level to visit FAS in the coming months.

When asked by the media if the US has plans to put in more investments in the region’s tourism and private sector amid claims that China is banning its citizens from travelling to Palau, which is affecting the latter’s tourism industry, the senior administration official instead brought up Trump’s free and open Indo-Pacific vision and BUILD Act which he said is designed to bring together all US economic assistance under an organization called the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) which is going to be launched on October 1, 2019.

“It allows the United States in this Development Finance Corp not only to lend money, but also to make equity investments so long as private sector investments make up the lion’s share of those projects,” the senior administration official said.

Under the DFC scheme, the United States’ previous $30-Billion cap for projects worldwide doubles to $60-Billion.

“What that means is you’re going to start seeing an increasing number of projects that are underwritten and led and co-sponsored by the US Development Finance Corporation where we are giving private sector investors a starring role, but we’re also going to be working closely with other close partners, development finance organizations,” the senior official said.

The BUILD Act or Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act was signed by President Trump on October 5, 2018 as a measure to strengthen US’ development finance capabilities and foreign policy priorities.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., Republic of Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, and Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo, leaders of the Pacific island nations bounded by special relationship with the US under the Compact of Free Association (COFA), had been invited by Trump for a meeting at the White House on May 21. The meeting was said to be historic as it was the first time that a US president hosted to meet the three presidents of the FAS.

In a joint statement issued by President Trump and the FAS leaders, the four nations reiterated their interest in cultivating a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“It is in our mutual interest that the Pacific Ocean remains an important and vibrant corridor for maritime trade, and that we work together to reduce vulnerabilities to economic fluctuation and natural disasters.  We seek to continue encouraging private-sector investment and trade between our countries and to strengthen the bonds between our peoples,” the joint statement read.

Other matters raised during the meeting involved pressing issues in the FAS such as combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, responding to natural disasters, and supporting the environment resiliency of the Pacific islands, among others.

FAS leaders’ meeting with Trump happened amid reports of rising tension between China and US as a result of trade war. The meeting is seen as a US move to counter growing Chinese influence in the Pacific. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)