White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Thursday he expects to see more U.S cabinet-level officials visiting Pacific island countries as the United States steps up its engagement in the region to counter China.
Speaking at a Centre for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, Campbell said the United States needed more diplomatic facilities across the region, and more contact with Pacific island countries that at times “receive lesser attention.”
“And I think you will see more cabinet-level, more senior officials, going to the Pacific as we go forward. So, again, direct engagement – recognising that nothing replaces, really, diplomatic boots on the ground,” Campbell said.
U.S President Joe Biden’s administration has vowed to commit more resources to the Indo-Pacific as China has increased economic, military and police links with strategically important Pacific island nations that are hungry for foreign investment.
Beijing’s growing influence was highlighted by its security pact with the Solomon Islands this year, a move that fanned concerns in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
“Sovereignty is central in terms of how we see the Pacific overall. Any initiative that compromises or calls into question that sovereignty, I think we would have concerns with,” Campbell said, without referring to China.
Washington has said it will expedite the opening of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, announced earlier this year when Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji, the first trip there by the United States’ top diplomat in four decades.
Campbell said he envisioned Fiji would be one of the United States’ “hubs” of engagement.
“I do want to just underscore our mantra will be nothing in the Pacific without the Pacific,” Campbell said, acknowledging perceptions that the United States had not always in the past sufficiently taken the needs of islanders into account.
“We do not take these bonds for granted,” Campbell said.