Taiwan Strait stability in spotlight ahead of US-Pacific summit

The United States has stepped up military activity in Palau in recent months amid growing tensions with China, according to Palau’s top diplomat who is visiting the United States ahead of the first US-Pacific island nations summit. next week in Washington.

Palau’s Minister of State Gustav Aitaro has urged countries to find alternative shipping lanes in the Pacific in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan that would make the Taiwan Strait a dangerous international shipping lane.

“Recently we’ve had a lot of visits from the US military to Palau: building radar systems in Palau, building airports, which doesn’t mean providing us with [with] guaranteed security, but at least it’s a deterrent,” Aitaro said at an event Monday hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

FILE – Palau’s Minister of State Gustav Aitaro attends a press conference in Ngerulmud, Palau July 9, 2022.

Aitaro said “if the conflict [in the Taiwan Strait] arises, the next alternative route is through Palau to Japan,” and that is why it is important for Palau, Japan, and the United States to have a discussion about potential scenarios.

“Deal with it before it happens. Let’s not wait until it’s too late,” Aitaro added.

Palau is one of the few countries to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Aitaro’s remarks came as US President Joe Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

In a Sunday interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” Biden, for the fourth time since taking office in 2021, said the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese attempt to seize control of Taiwan through strength.

Peace and Stability Across the Taiwan Strait

“The president’s words speak for themselves. I believe our policy has been consistent and unchanged and will continue,” said Kurt Campbell, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Indo- Peaceful.

“Our main goal is to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, to secure and stabilize the status quo, to ensure that there is healthy dialogue and discussion, to try to avoid inadvertently escalating situations,” Campbell added during the same event in New York on Monday.

The Taiwan Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes and the main route for ships from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to Europe, the United States and the all markets along the way. This year, 88% of the largest container ships have passed through it.

freely associated states

The Republic of Palau is located adjacent to the US territories of Guam and is one of the Freely Associated States (FAS) closest to the South China Sea. The FAS refers to Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia which had signed treaties with the United States.

Under expiring treaties known as the Compacts of Free Association, the three Pacific island nations receive grants and security guarantees from the US government. FAS citizens can live and work in the United States without a visa.

In exchange, the United States has the right to build military bases in these three island nations and can deny foreigners access to the waters, airspace and land of these countries.

An April internal State Department document said support for U.S. military efforts, “particularly given baseline plans for vital radar sites around the country, as well as an increased tempo of training and ‘US military exercises’, are among the top priorities of the US Embassy in Palau.

United States-Pacific Island Countries Summit

Next week, the White House will host its first U.S.-Pacific island nations summit. Scheduled for Sept. 28-29, officials said the two-day in-person summit demonstrates the United States’ enduring partnership with Pacific island nations on key issues including maritime security, climate change and advancing climate change. a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Biden will host a dinner with leaders of Pacific island nations at the White House. US climate envoy John Kerry will host a session on climate change at the State Department.

Other meetings include sessions at the Chamber of Commerce, USAID, the Pentagon, the Department of the Interior, Homeland Security, and Coast Guard Headquarters, where new initiatives will be announced.

Senior US officials had sounded the alarm over Chinese ambitions to seek a military footprint in the Indo-Pacific, while admitting next week’s summit was part of Washington’s plan to address the lack of a strategic approach Pacific island nations.

FILE - A Chinese military J-11 fighter jet flies over the Taiwan Strait near Pingtan, the closest mainland Chinese land to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan in southeast China's Fujian Province , August 5, 2022.

FILE – A Chinese military J-11 fighter jet flies over the Taiwan Strait near Pingtan, the closest mainland Chinese land to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan, southeast China’s Fujian Province ), on August 5, 2022.

After decades of relative inattention by policymakers in Washington and Beijing, the Pacific Islands region is emerging as an arena of strategic competition, with significant implications for US security interests. United, according to a report by the Washington-based American Institute for Peace (USIP). .)

Citing recent developments that have raised U.S. concerns in the region, such as a secret Solomon Islands-China security deal that is seen as likely laying the groundwork for a Chinese military presence, the report USIP suggested that Washington could start investing more in its closest partners. like the FAS to limit China’s influence in the region.

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