News / USA

Clinton Visit Signals Renewed Diplomatic Interest in South Pacific

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (FILE).
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (FILE).

During her high profile two-week tour of Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the United States will increase its development and security cooperation with countries in the South Pacific. On Wednesday, Clinton will visit Papua New Guinea, and later New Zealand and Australia.

Secretary Clinton's talks with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare will cover a wide range of issues: environmental concerns, women's rights and governance in the resource-wealthy yet economically poor nation.

The top U.S. diplomat's visit to Port Moresby is part of Washington's renewed interest in the region, which in recent years has received increased assistance from China. Most countries in the South Pacific, outside of Australia and New Zealand, are small and poor. A few are politically unstable and several island nations are threatened by rising sea levels.

The Lowy Institute of International Policy in Sydney estimates that in 2008 China pledged $206 million in grants and soft loans to eight small Pacific nations. The U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] only gave $3.6 million.

Clinton says that is going to change: next year USAID will open an office in Fiji with a $20 million climate change fund. It will be the first USAID presence in the region in 16 years.  Military-ruled Fiji is believed to be the biggest recipient of Chinese aid in the region.

"We are working through the Pacific Island Forum to support the Pacific island nations as they strive to really confront and solve the challenges they face from climate change and freedom of navigation," said Clinton.

It is not too late for the U.S. to engage with the region, says Allan Patience, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, and an expert on South Pacific nations.

"There is still a strong sense that America is an important presence, but that America has been neglecting the region," Patience said. "China itself has some problems, in that some [Pacific] states are asking too much, demanding too much and are not prepared to follow through with what China wants them to do. A good case would be Fiji, which has been trying to use China against some of the other countries in the region particularly Australia and New Zealand, in defending the takeover by the military couple of years ago," Patience points out. "Australia and New Zealand have reduced their aid, making it difficult for Fiji. Fiji turned to China."

Australia has been the traditional regional power, giving about $1 billion in aid this year. But relations with its neighbors have sometimes been strained because of Canberra's insistence on political or economic reforms.

Professor Patience cautions that politicians in Port Moresby could use Clinton's visit to bolster their legitimacy despite allegations of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. Transparency International this year ranked Papua New Guinea among the most corrupt countries in the world.

About half of the country's income comes from oil drilling and mining for metals such as copper and gold, activities that environmental watchdogs say damage the country's rich biodiversity. The U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil operates a natural gas project that could pump $30 billion into Papua New Guinea's government over 30 years.

From Port Moresby, Clinton travels to New Zealand.

Kurt Campbell, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, says the U.S. will recommit to ties with New Zealand.  Campbell adds relations have been largely ignored since Wellington banned nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from its waters 25 years ago.

"There, we will issue the so-called Wellington Declaration which will underscore our desire to see U.S.-New Zealand relations return to a significance in terms of coordination on a range of issues - non-proliferation, politics, climate change, how we work together in the Pacific Islands," Campbell said. "And we, of course, are very grateful for the work and support that New Zealand has provided us and other nations in Afghanistan."

From there, Secretary Clinton travels to Australia, a close ally whose forces serve in Afghanistan.

Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defense Minister Stephen Smith to mark the 25th anniversary of bilateral ministerial talks.

Secretary Clinton earlier said the allies will continue to modernize defense cooperation to respond to "a more complex maritime environment."

Some Australian political analysts say Canberra is caught between Washington and Beijing. Chinese demand for Australian resources have contributed to an economic boom in Australia and relations with Beijing have grown closer in recent years.  An Australian defense ministry report last month warned that increased Chinese military spending is changing the balance of power in Asia as the U.S. experiences military budget pressures.

In recent years, Australian mines have been one of the biggest suppliers to China of iron ore and other raw materials. But even as Sino-Australian economic ties flourished, many Australian officials and foreign affairs analysts remain wary over China's growing regional power.

Clinton wraps up her Asia-Pacific tour in American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific devastated by a tsunami in 2009.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs