The US-Pacific Island Country Summit puts the Pacific region at the centre of 21st century geopolitics

The US-Pacific Island Country Summit puts the Pacific region at the centre of 21st century geopolitics

Plus: the UK makes a u-turn on its tax cuts, EU energy ministers agree to new energy-saving measures, and more worrying trends for Europe’s glaciers

Hi there Intriguer. We rarely stray from our lane, but the Bella Hadid x Coperni moment at this year’s Paris Fashion Week was something to behold. The supermodel sported a dress made of ‘Fabrican’ – a spray-on, non-woven material that dried to create a white, off-the-shoulder gown. Fabrican promises to compress industrial supply chains, reduce carbon footprints, and improve your self-esteem on those days you can’t quite wriggle into your jeans.

Today’s briefing is a ~4.7 min read:

  • 🏝️ The US Indo-Pacific strategy: Biden hosts Pacific Island nations at the White House.
  • ➕ Plus: the UK chucks a uey on tax cuts, EU energy ministers agree to new energy-saving measures, and more worrying trends for Europe’s glaciers.

Quick take: Musk tweeted a ‘plan for peace in Ukraine’ yesterday morning. It made news in a surprising number of non-English speaking countries, including most Ukrainian papers. Whatever you think of Elon Musk, his ability to attract global attention is remarkable.


The US’s latest push into the Indo-Pacific

In brief:

  • The US hosted the first ‘US-Pacific Island Country Summit’ last week, which, despite a bumpy start, ended with all countries agreeing to an 11-point joint statement.
  • Amongst the new initiatives announced during the summit, the US agreed to give $810M in new aid, provide law enforcement training, and expand its diplomatic footprint in the region.

The US-Pacific Island Country Summit

As part of its charm offensive in the Indo-Pacific region, the US rolled out the red carpet for Pacific Island nation leaders during a two-day summit last week.

  • The US has previously been criticised for ignoring the Pacific – hosting this summit was an effort to make good on its promise to refocus its foreign policy on the region.

(For those allergic to diplo-jargon, here’s a brief explainer on the term ‘Indo-Pacific‘.)

The summit didn’t start well

According to leaked documents obtained by the Guardian, several Pacific leaders took issue with the draft summit agreement:

  1. The Solomon Islands, which signed a security deal with China earlier this year, declared it was “not in a position to adopt the declaration this week”.
  2. After reviewing the draft agreement, the ambassadors from Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to senior US diplomat Kurt Campbell saying, “to put it simply: the US economic assistance is insufficient“.

But President Biden was seemingly able to make summit participants an offer they couldn’t refuse, because all the regional leaders eventually signed on to the 11-point joint statement. (Here’s the official US readout for all you extra keen beans!)

The Pacific’s increasing importance

China’s surprise diplomatic manoeuvres in the Pacific this year have forced the US into action. If there was any doubt that the Pacific is now one of the most geopolitically-important regions of the world, there is none now.

During his opening remarks, US President Joe Biden reiterated:

[t]he security of America, quite frankly, and the world depends on your security and the security of the Pacific Islands. And I really mean that.” 

The US says it is offering Indo-Pacific countries an ‘alternative foreign policy strategy’ that is based on more than simply pointing out that ‘the US is not China’. (Interestingly, this is the same strategy the US is trying to use in Africa.)

The key outcomes of the US-Pacific Island Country Summit:

  • The US pledged $810M in new aid over the next decade, including $130M to combat the effects of climate change.
  • Washington announced plans to recognize the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign states (they are currently “self-governing countries in free association with New Zealand”).
  • $2.8 million will go towards F.B.I.-led law enforcement training across six countries, including the Solomon Islands.
  • The US will increase its number of diplomatic missions in the region from six to nine.

Will it be enough to convince Pacific Island nations?

The new aid and security pledges are another, more tangible signal that the US plans to increase its engagement with the region. But without private sector involvement, US government commitments might not be enough.

Talking to the New York Times, Pacific Affairs expert Graeme Smith explained:

“The dilemma, as always, is how do you get private U.S. companies to invest more in the Pacific. You can turn the military tap on and, with congressional approval, the aid tap, but unlike China, they can’t push their companies to engage with the region.”

In the meantime, the Pacific Island states will need to play their cards skilfully to make sure both China and the US keep their promises.

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🇧🇬 Bulgaria

Bulgaria held its parliamentary election on Sunday and according to early results, the centre-right GERB party has won, despite numerous accusations of corruption.

  • GERB leadership will probably find it hard to form a coalition, since most political parties have already signalled their unwillingness to cooperate.
  • This is Bulgaria’s fourth election in less than two years.

🇪🇺 The EU

European energy ministers held an emergency meeting last Friday, during which they agreed on a series of ‘unprecedented measures’ to help with Europe’s energy crisis.

  • Countries have agreed to ration electricity by 5% during peak hours, and impose a €140B windfall tax on energy companies.
  • This won’t be the last EU energy intervention you’ll hear about – lawmakers are already discussing a price limit on gas used for generating electricity and/or a Russian gas price cap.

🇳🇱 Netherlands

Nicaragua has cut all diplomatic ties with the Netherlands after the latter announced it would no longer provide funding to build a long-promised hospital, citing human rights concerns.

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the Netherlands of taking on an “interventionist and neocolonialist” attitude.
  • Capping off a week of tensions with the international community, President Ortega declared the EU ambassador persona non grata, forcing her to leave the country over the weekend and announced he would deny entry to the newly-appointed US ambassador.

🇷🇺 Russia

Predictably, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which condemned the Russian annexation of four regions of Ukraine, and demanded its immediate reversal.

  • The resolution condemning Russia was supported by 10 out of 15 of the Security Council members, while China, India, Gabon, and Brazil abstained.
  • Because of a new procedure adopted earlier this year, the veto has triggered an automatic UN General Assembly meeting to scrutinise the Security Council vote.

🇬🇧 The UK

The UK government has backtracked on its previous decision to cut taxes for high earners, a plan that triggered a financial backlash that sank the pound’s value against the US dollar.

  • Last week, the Bank of England was forced to intervene in the market and buy long-dated government bonds to avoid a further deterioration of the country’s financial stability.
  • Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced the reversal on Monday, saying “we get it, and we have listened“, while insisting the tax cut was only binned because it had become a “massive distraction“.

Climate change is hitting Switzerland hard

The news: Add Switzerland to the list of places where glaciers are melting alarmingly quickly.

  • According to a new study released by the Swiss Academy of Sciences, the country’s glaciers have lost 6% of their ice volume just *this year*, topping the previous record set in 2003.

The causes: This year’s unprecedented (and we use that word literally) melting was facilitated by a host of factors:

  1. Anemic snowfall early in the 2021/2022 season failed to give glaciers a protective snow layer.
  2. Sand from the Sahara blew in and mixed with the snow, increasing its solar energy absorption and leading to faster melting.
  3. Unusually-high temperatures between May and September finished off the job.

Why it matters: Beyond it being a worrying trend for ski and mountaineering aficionados, melting glaciers are a threat to Europe’s water and energy security.

  • Sometimes referred to as the ‘water towers of Europe’, glaciers are an essential source of fresh water for rivers which provide drinking water and hydropower to many European countries.

“The [Swiss] ice melt in July and August alone would have provided enough water to fill all the reservoirs in the Swiss Alps from scratch.” 

Swiss Academy of Sciences

The bigger picture doesn’t look much better: Glaciers in the European Alps have lost ~50% of their volume since 1900, and are expected to retreat a further 22-84% by the end of the century.

  • This year, the Southern Schneeferner in Bavaria had its glacier title revoked because of shrinkage, leaving Germany with only four glaciers.

We spend our days staying on top of things, so you don’t have to. Here are some of our favourite resources we use to keep ourselves (and therefore you!) informed:

  • 🪖 The Ruck is a newsletter written by former US Marine to stay on top of national security.
  • 📈 Chartr is a free visual newsletter driven by data. Visual learners, rejoice!
  • 👂 The Rebooting Show is a deep dive from a former media executive into all things related to modern media strategy.
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