Does the U.S. See Pacific Island Countries As "True Partners"?-Xinhua

Does the U.S. See Pacific Island Countries As "True Partners"?

Source: Xinhuanet

Editor: huaxia

2023-08-29 13:25:39

by Xin Ping

Late last July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken became the first-ever Cabinet official to visit Tonga. Meanwhile, Lloyd Austin visited Papua New Guinea, making him the first U.S. Secretary of Defense visiting the country. It is quite uncommon for the two top officials of the U.S. foreign service and military to visit Pacific island countries at the same time. Why does the U.S. begin to care so much about this region all of a sudden?

Perhaps what Mr. Blinken told reporters at the Joint Press Availability offered the answer. After repeating some clichés of the U.S. being a strong partner of countries in the region, the Secretary changed the tone by saying that "Chinese engagement with the region has grown, there has been some increasingly problematic behavior". The Washington Post has interpreted incisively the intention of this Guest of Honor, i.e., having abandoned the South Pacific for so long after the Cold War, Washington suddenly noticed that Beijing was out-competing it in even the tiniest countries. So the Biden administration has to rush to reboot its long-dormant ties with the island nations where China has a strong presence.  

It seems that the recent "interest" in the Pacific island countries shown by the U.S. is not about bringing prosperity and stability, as the U.S. has solemnly declared. In fact, in the history of U.S. relationship with the South Pacific, there is hardly any occasion when the former had shown some mercy on the latter and the wounds inflicted by the U.S. on these island countries are still difficult to heal. 

During World War II, the U.S. left large quantities of munitions and hazardous chemical wastes in the Solomon Islands, bringing long-lasting damage and harm to the local environment and the health of local people. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands—vaporizing whole islands, carving craters into its shallow lagoons and exiling hundreds of people from their homes. The testing of Castle Bravo was a typical case, which made the Marshallese "guinea pigs" for the U.S. radiation research. Cancer cases, miscarriages and deformities multiplied ever since. Till 1967, ten years after the Bravo detonation, there were still many young islanders who developed thyroid disorders or died of leukemia. 

The petty sum of so-called compensation from the U.S. cannot make up the grave losses suffered by the people on the islands. A formal apology is still owed from the White House. Once the Cold War drew to an end, the U.S. believed that it had achieved a solid uni-polar hegemony and the South Pacific island countries had no strategic value anymore. It therefore began to cut off foreign aid and financial assistance to the Pacific islands, including the nuclear compensation.  

The once-abandoned became the cherished now, not because the U.S. is stung by conscience but because there comes the need to use these countries as a "chessman" in its rivalry against China. Regarding the South Pacific as its own backyard, Washington would rather allow it overgrown with weeds than tolerate any "outsider" planting some flowers in it. Take the Pacific Partnership Strategy for example. The motive to formulate this paper is to counteract some so-called "economic coercion" by China, which in a non-U.S. narration refers to cooperation with China in enhancing local infrastructure, mitigating climate change, improving health care, developing agriculture and so on. 

To some extent, if the "increased Chinese influence", as Washington describes it, does bring some stimulation to the U.S., it is not a bad thing: at least the gardener finally set out to care about his yard. As a Tongan netizen wrote on social media, "If it weren't for the recent Chinese embassy building in Nuku'alofa (Tonga's capital), I'm afraid the United States would never have noticed Tonga".

But still, we should bear in mind that the Pacific island countries are a land of its people rather than anyone's backyard, still less an arena for geopolitical games. The region could become a platform for international cooperation if the real partners share the same view of common development and respect the island countries’ right to choose their own way to develop. This is not only the proper demeanour of a major country, but also a responsibility for regional peace and stability.

(The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, Global Times, China Daily, CGTN etc. He can be reached at

The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Xinhuanet.