WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday rolled out the red carpet for Pacific Island leaders in the face of rising Chinese influence in the region and said it expected a united front, despite friction with one nation - the Solomon Islands.
In a first-of-a-kind summit in Washington, the United States promised greater aid and diplomatic engagement on issues from maritime security to pandemic recovery and climate change, which threatens to devastate many of the low-lying islands.
Opening two days of meetings with 12 leaders and representatives of two other nations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the leaders to lunch and assured them, "You can count on the United States partnering with you."
In a veiled reference to China's growing assertiveness around the region and across Asia, Mr Blinken called for "preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific where every nation - no matter how big, no matter how small - has the right to choose its own path".
He said the summit would release a document, adding, "We've agreed on it, and it will give us a roadmap for the work that we're doing in the future."
His statement came a day after Australia's ABC reported that the Solomon Islands privately communicated that it would not sign off on the statement, depriving the summit of consensus. But State Department spokesman Ned Price said discussions have made "tremendous progress".
The Solomon Islands in April signed a secretive security pact with China, defying warnings from the US, as well as Australia and New Zealand, which are participating in Mr Biden's summit as observers.
Solomon Islands leader Manasseh Sogavare, accused of creeping authoritarianism, told ...