AVARUA, Cook Islands – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed Friday the United States would remain active in the South Pacific for the “long haul” but said the region was big enough for a rising China.
Clinton announced some $32 million in new aid projects as she became the first US secretary of state to take part in an annual South Pacific summit, in a sign of renewed interest in the vast but often overlooked region.
The United States ended its main aid programmes in the South Pacific in 1994, leading some in the region to conclude that the United States was not interested. However, assistance resumed recently under President Barack Obama.
Clinton’s visit comes as many islands forge closer ties with China, which according to Australia’s Lowy Institute has pledged more than $600 million in low-interest and mostly strings-free loans to the South Pacific since 2005.
Clinton, who will visit Beijing next week for talks on the often fractious relationship between the world’s two largest economies, played down rivalries in the South Pacific.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with your development partners — Japan, the European Union, China,” she told leaders from the 15-nation Pacific Islands Forum.
“We all have important contributions and stakes in the region’s success to advance your security, your opportunity and your prosperity,” she said.
“I think, after all, the Pacific is big enough for all of us,” she said.
Clinton, speaking over the sound of roosters at the summit in the tiny Cook Islands, pointed to US involvement in World War II and argued that the US military has helped underwrite stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Our countries are bound by shared interests, and more importantly, by shared values, a shared history, and shared goals for the future,” Clinton said.
“We are increasing our investments,” she said. “And we will be here with you for the long haul.”
Clinton will later hold talks with New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key and a senior official from Australia, longstanding US partners with strong interests in the South Pacific.
US efforts in the region form “a very strong message to the people of the Pacific and even beyond, and I take that very seriously,” said Clinton. – Agence France-Presse
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