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US Official Urges Approval of New Deals With Pacific Islands

A senior U.S. administration official said the United States needs to move ahead and fulfill its commitment under new arrangements with three Pacific Island nations as Washington faces fierce competition from Beijing in the region.

The new 20-year funding programs for the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau are awaiting congressional approval. Under the new arrangements, the U.S. would provide defense and economic assistance while securing exclusive military access to pivotal areas across the Pacific.

Thursday, the nominee for deputy secretary of state, Kurt Campbell, told a Senate panel that if Congress fails to fund the agreements, “you can expect that literally the next day, Chinese diplomats, military and other folks will be on the plane landing in” each of these island states, trying to “secure a better deal for China.”

Campbell, currently the White House National Security Council’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, also said it is critical for the United States to support its diplomatic personnel amid intense competition from China.

“I remember last year we went to the Solomons for the first time. We landed in our plane. We got off. We were met at the airport by one [U.S.] diplomat, probably the most hard-charging guy I’ve ever met, and he was exhausted.

“He was a one-person diplomacy in the Solomons, one of our most contested places, and was living in a hotel with his dog. And as we drove into town, we went by the gleaming Chinese Embassy [with] dozens and dozens of staffers,” Campbell said during his nomination hearing.

In Beijing, Chinese officials have said competition should not define its relationship with the U.S.

“Major-country competition cannot solve the problems facing China and the United States or the world,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a readout after U.S. President Joe Biden’s four hours of talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 15 on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco.

Some U.S. lawmakers say they disagree with Beijing’s assessment.

“China intends to replace us, probably by midcentury, as the economic, military and geopolitical leader of the world,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said during Campbell’s nomination hearing Thursday. “They [China] say, of course, that they’re worried about us, you know, constraining and containing them, which is laughable. They’re all over the world, far more than we are.”

Taiwan

Campbell told U.S. lawmakers that the Biden administration’s budget request to Congress reflects the U.S. strategic commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, including “to stand with Taiwan” and “to support the Philippines.”

A turbulent year in U.S.-China relations culminated in talks between the country’s two leaders in mid-November. Xi told Biden that Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in their bilateral ties. Ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait was high on the agenda. According to a senior U.S. official, Xi signaled that he was unaware of plans for a massive invasion of Taiwan. 

Despite this pledge, China has escalated military activities near the Taiwan Strait in recent months. The United States has voiced concerns about any Chinese interference through military coercion, as Taiwan prepares for a presidential election in January.

Some analysts say there must be credible threats and assurances on the part of the U.S. to ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

“It is essential that Taiwan and the United States have the ability to threaten to impose a lot of pain and consequences on the People’s Republic of China if it were to use force against Taiwan,” Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund, told VOA.

Glaser added that there also need to be “some assurances” from the U.S., China, and Taiwan at the same time. For example, the United States has said it does not support Taiwan independence. If China does not use force, China should be assured that its real interests will not be damaged. If Taiwan does not declare independence, it will not be targeted with the use of force by Beijing.

Human rights

During Thursday’s hearing, Senator Ben Cardin, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said American foreign policy must be driven by core values, including promoting democracy, fighting corruption and defending human rights.

December 10 marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some human rights advocates said the way Washington manages the Israel-Hamas conflict, while safeguarding the rights and dignity of the Palestinian population, will have a significant impact on the perception of U.S. credibility and leadership on the global stage.

“The U.S. as a global leader should not selectively apply the universal human rights values when aligned with its foreign policy objectives and amplify voices that suit its agenda. Such positioning undermines the efforts of human rights advocates,” U.S.-based Uyghur human rights lawyer Rayhan Asat told VOA.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with “a diverse group” of representatives from human rights organizations on Thursday at the State Department. A spokesperson said the secretary wants to learn about the challenges of their work.

If confirmed by the Senate, Campbell will replace Wendy Sherman, who retired in July, to become deputy secretary of state.

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