President Joe Biden extended official US diplomatic recognition to the Cook Islands and Niue for the first time Monday as he hosted Pacific Island leaders at the White House for a second annual summit.
The two-day gathering of 19 world leaders comes as Biden seeks to check Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region amid increasing great power competition with Beijing.
"Our objective is to build a better world," Biden said at the White House. "One of the great opportunities for security, prosperity and dignity for all our people -- no matter where they live -- that starts by building stronger partnerships with each other."
The decision to open diplomatic ties with the Cook Islands and Niue was part of a raft of announcements made by Biden during the summit.
That includes a commitment to work with Congress to secure $200 million in funding for the region to expand cooperation, plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu in 2024, and a pledge to work with lawmakers to provide $64 million in development assistance.
Biden is also committing to having the US work with low-lying island nations whose future is increasingly jeopardized by a climate change-induced sea level rise, vowing to ensure that it does not result in the loss of their UN membership.
"I want you to know: I hear you. The people of the United States and around the world hear you. We hear your warnings of a rising sea and that they pose an existential threat to your nations," he said.
"We hear your calls for reassurance that you never, never, never will lose your statehood or membership at the UN as a result of a climate crisis. Today, the United States is making it clear that this is our position as well," he added.
This week's meeting is the second such summit over the past two years, and the leaders committed to meeting again in 2025, one year after the 2024 US presidential elections, when Biden will have to devote a considerable amount of time to the campaign trail.
In a separate statement, the US State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed separate joint statements with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi commemorating the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US, the Cook Islands and Niue.
"With the establishment of diplomatic relations, the United States and the Cook Islands will strengthen bilateral cooperation on shared priorities including the climate crisis, ocean stewardship, marine resources, renewable energy, education, sustainable development, democracy, human rights and good governance," the statement said.
"In addition, the United States and the Cook Islands will continue to work closely together in Pacific regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community, and bolster connections within the Pacific region. The United States greatly appreciates and supports Prime Minister Brown’s leadership as the current Chair of the Pacific Island Forum," it added.
"Moving forward, the United States and Niue will cooperate on shared priorities including the climate crisis, ocean stewardship, education, culture, sustainable development, democracy, human rights and good governance. The two nations will also continue to work together through important regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community," the State Department said in a separate statement.