Congress must swiftly pass legislation to implement strategic pacts with Pacific Island nations and counter Chinese aggression towards the Philippines, US House representatives from Guam and Hawaii told the foreign affairs committee on Friday.
The agreements, collectively known as the Compacts of Free Association (Cofa), grant the US military access to the land, air and sea of the three countries in exchange for economic assistance and migration rights for those countries’ citizens for 20 years at a time. Though the deals began in the 1980s, they have become part of the US government’s strategy to counter China’s influence efforts in the Indo-Pacific.
The Marshall Islands and Palau are two of 13 countries that still recognise Taipei over Beijing, while Micronesia has maintained diplomatic ties with Beijing since 1989.
In 2022, Micronesia rejected a sweeping diplomatic, economic and security pact with Beijing. The US government has been stepping up its engagement with the islands in recent years, launching an annual US-Pacific Islands leaders summit last year and new embassies in Tonga and the Solomon Islands.
“Unfortunately, our engagement [with the Pacific Islands has] waned over time and suffered from decades of insufficient attention, a situation that the pacing challenge of China, Pacific power Russia and others have been only too willing to exploit,” Representative Ed Case, Democrat of Hawaii and co-founder of the House Pacific Islands Caucus, said on Friday.
“We have a limited window of time in which to make a new impression, and again, prove ourselves to be steadfast partners.”
The comments were made during “Member Day” for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, during which lawmakers who do not sit on the committee can highlight bills that they think should be prioritised.
“As the representative of the island of Guam, I understand just how crucial it is for us to ensure our regional allies are confident that the United States will not abandon them or leave them [to] deal with the PRC alone,” Moylan said.