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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 11:25 | SYDNEY

US: Your money where your mouth is

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5 November 2010 10:29

While Australia's media keeps its eyes on the prize — Hillary Clinton's pending visit to Australia — there are those, albeit a small few, who are more interested in Hilary's fly-by into the Pacific Islands, and what this means for US engagement, or lack thereof, in the region.

Papua New Guinea was the Pacific Island destination chosen for Hillary's pit-stop, and although the visit was an embarrassingly short four hours, making this stop-over in the region is an important gesture.

As my colleague Jenny Hayward-Jones wrote the US has, for some years now, talked up greater engagement, re-engagement, and enhanced engagement in the Pacific. Americans like to talk, unfortunately however, little of this ever translated into real action for the Pacific Islands.

Even when the US anointed 2007 as the ‘Year of the Pacific’ the resulting inactivity was on par with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s chairing of the Pacific Island Forum in 2009 — simply a lot of nothing and then some.

The US has long been concerned with China’s growing influence in the region. And so they should be. China is pacific-proactive. Slowly but surely China has significantly ramped up engagement in the Pacific Islands region. Chinese aid has increased six-fold between 2005 and 2008. The Chinese military has strengthened military cooperation with Fiji, PNG, Tonga and Timor-Leste.

While the US talks re-engagement, China does expansion and has very easily filled the gap left by US neglect. It will take more than a brief Clinton visit to signal renewed diplomatic interest in the region.

Perhaps 2011 can be the United State’s ‘Year of the Pacific’ do-over. The US sent their largest delegation ever to the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu. This, coupled with ongoing discussions, that the US might open a USAID office in Fiji, followed by one in PNG has led to cautious optimism that, perhaps this time, the US is serious about it’s re-engagement with the region.

This week has also seen Hillary offer the Pacific Islands a handful of small gestures. While this is a welcome and positive step it will take more than this to show the Pacific the US is capable of putting their money where their mouth is.

Photo by Flickr user East West Center, used under a Creative Commons license. 

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