Washington (AFP) – The Biden administration is closing in on deals with two Pacific island nations to expand ties that are crucial to maintaining balance in the US-China competition for influence in a region where the Chinese are rapidly expanding their economic, diplomatic and military clout. .
This week, the United States signed memorandums of understanding with Marshall Islands And Palau Administration officials hope that it will pave the way for the swift completion of broader agreements that will govern the islands’ relations with Washington for the next two decades. These relationships give the US military and other unique security rights to the islands in return for significant aid.
The administration believes that extending the so-called “free association” agreements will be key to efforts to retain American power and reduce Chinese assertiveness throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle
The memos signed this week outline the sums of money the federal government will provide the Marshall Islands and Palau if their charters are successfully renegotiated. Negotiations are under way for a similar memorandum with a third country, Micronesia.
Officials will not discuss the specifics of the financial amounts involved because the deals are not yet legally binding and must still be reviewed and approved by Congress as part of the budget process.
A Micronesian media outlet, Marianas Variety, reported Thursday that the Marshall Islands will receive $700 million over four years under the memorandum it signed. But that amount would only cover one-fifth of the 20-year extension of the deal and not include the amount Palau would receive.
Joe Yun, Biden’s special presidential envoy for merged negotiations, said the sums would be much larger than what the United States has provided in the past.
Islanders have long complained that previous agreements they signed did not adequately address their needs or the long-term environmental and health issues caused by US nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Lawmakers have expressed concern since 2021 that the administration is not paying enough attention to this issue.
The Marshall Islands, in particular, will be compensated for such damages and given control over how that money is spent, said Yoon, who signed the memos with representatives of the Marshall Islands and Palau on Tuesday and Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Yoon said he would advance the “health, welfare, and development of communities affected by nuclear weapons” and also noted that the United States has committed to building a new hospital as well as a museum in the Marshall Islands to preserve the memory and legacy of their role, particularly in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
This week’s signatures pave the way for individual federal agencies — including the Postal Service, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Weather Service — to negotiate their own agreements with the Marshall Islands and Palau, which will then become part of the broader agreements.
Along with federal funds, these agencies provide their services to the islands. In exchange, the United States is granted unique rights and privileges over national military and security bases in a region where China is increasingly flexing its muscles.
Yun said China was not specifically brought up in the negotiations, but was a key element in all parties’ discussions.
“The threat from China is not public, but there is no doubt that China is a factor,” Yun said. Not only does China have a large and growing economic presence in the region, but both the Marshall Islands and Palau recognize Taiwan diplomatically. “They are under Chinese pressure,” he said.
China is steadily hunting down Taiwan’s allies in the Pacific, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands in 2019. The United States announced plans last year to reopen an embassy in the Solomon Islands, which has a security pact with China.
Since World War II, the United States has treated the Marshall Islands, along with Micronesia and Palau, as territories. In the Marshall Islands, the United States has developed military, intelligence and space facilities in an area where China is particularly active.
In turn, the islands’ economy benefited from American money and jobs. Many of the islanders have taken advantage of their ability to live and work in the United States, moving by the thousands to Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Oregon and Oklahoma.
Many in the Marshall Islands believe that a $150 million US settlement agreed in the 1980s fell short of addressing the nuclear legacy. But the US position has remained steadfast for more than 20 years, the last time the deal was renegotiated.
Various estimates have put the true cost of the damage at about $3 billion, including repairs to a massive nuclear waste facility known as the Cactus Dome that environmentalists say is leaking toxic waste into the ocean.
The US Department of Energy says the dome contains more than 100,000 cubic yards (76,000 cubic meters) of radioactively contaminated soil and debris, but the structure is not in immediate danger of failure.
Get updates and player profiles before high school games on Friday, plus Saturday’s recap with stories, photos, and video Frequency: Seasonal twice a week
Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.