https://www.theepochtimes.com/pacific-islands-embassies-act-becomes-law-pushes-for-us-influence-in-the-region_4953946.html

The Pacific Islands Embassies Act has been included as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, and has now become law, pushing for a stronger American presence in the Pacific island region where China is striving to expand its influence.

The legislation aims to set up three U.S. embassies on the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, Tonga, and Vanuatu. The bill sets aside $40.2 million for fiscal year 2023 for constructing the embassies as well as their maintenance. An additional $3 million has been authorized as maintenance expenses for fiscal year 2024. It mandates that the embassies be established within two years of the enactment of the act.

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate by a group of bipartisan lawmakers.

Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) were sponsors of the bill in the Senate. It was supported by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Reps. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Ed Case (D-Hawaii) sponsored a companion bill in the House.

“As Communist China sets its sights on the Indo-Pacific, it is vitally important the United States strengthen our strategic partnerships and counter the CCP’s growing influence in the region,” Blackburn said in a Dec. 29 news release. “This measure to establish additional U.S. diplomatic presence in the Pacific Islands is a key component to deepening our shared values of freedom and democracy and ensuring the continued security of the U.S. and our partners.”

During her visit to some of the Pacific island nations earlier this year, Blackburn spoke to local leaders about the importance of boosting U.S. diplomatic presence in the area.

Significance of Pacific Islands

The Pacific island region spans 15 percent of the world’s surface area and controls critical routes, including supply lines to U.S. forward-deployed forces in East Asia, sea lanes to the Western Hemisphere, and economically important fisheries.

The Pacific island region is home to 11 U.S. territories, the state of Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base, and Naval Base Guam.

China is seeking to increase influence in the region through security agreements with the Solomon Islands and infrastructure development under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Washington needs to maintain a diplomatic presence in Vanuatu, Tonga, and Kiribati “to ensure the physical and operation security of our efforts in those countries to deepen relations, protect United States national security, and pursue United States national interests,” according to the bill.

Chinese Influence

A Sept. 20 report by the United States Institute of Peace points out that though Chinese officials have not publicly stated that the Pacific islands are a key area of interest for Beijing, the area is very important for the Asian nation.

The region offers a “low-investment, high-reward” opportunity for the Chinese regime to score strategic, tactical, and symbolic victories as it pushes ahead with its global agenda.

Pacific nations have received low levels of engagement from powers like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, which some consider a strategic neglect.

This has “created a geostrategic void that China has sought to fill using the playbook it has honed elsewhere in the world: foreign assistance, private-sector investment and loans, sustained and high-level diplomacy, and in some cases tools of elite capture such as corruption and economic coercion,” the report stated.

Though China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands is not cause for alarm, it should be “viewed with concern,” the report states.

Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.

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