Fiji will become the 14th country and the first Pacific island nation to join US President Joe Biden’s signature economic framework, the White House announced on Friday, giving a boost to Washington’s efforts to counter growing Chinese influence in Asia Pacific. .
The announcement of Fiji’s membership in the Indo-Pacific Prosperity Economic Framework (IPEF) came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled to Kiribati as part of a tour of eight Pacific Island countries, where Beijing and Washington are locked in a battle for influence.
Wang’s visit comes after China and the Solomon Islands sealed a security pact earlier this year that has raised alarm in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, who fear Beijing intends to establish a military foothold in the country. the region. China has denied any intention to establish a military base or “harm the interests of other countries.”
Wang’s trip coincides with a visit to Fiji by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is due to meet with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama later on Friday.
In a statement, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US and Fiji are united in “our commitment to a free, open and prosperous region” and that the island country has a especially valuable on climate change.
The Fijian government had not yet announced its IPEF membership as of Friday afternoon.
Instead of opening up market access like a traditional free trade pact, IPEF aims to foster common standards in four broad areas: trade; supply chains; clean energy, decarbonization and infrastructure; and tax and anti-corruption.
“I would have thought that a good trade and climate change initiative would attract most of the Pacific islands,” Deborah Elms, president of the Asia Business Trade Association, told Al Jazeera.
“Given the dual threats of runaway climate change and disrupted trade patterns as a result, island states are particularly vulnerable. One of the pillars of IPEF is supposed to address these issues in some way. So it is likely that Fiji decided that joining IPEF’s clean pillar could be a way to help address the challenges.”
Biden launched the IPEF, which also includes India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Vietnam, in Tokyo on Monday as part of an Asia tour aimed at reaffirming America’s commitment to the region.
While countries in the region have welcomed Biden’s engagement efforts, the framework has been criticized for failing to give members much-sought access to US markets.
On Thursday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged the US to return to a broad regional trade agreement it abandoned in 2017, describing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as the “gold standard”. gold” to develop deeper economic ties. .
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said earlier this month that the United States should “adopt a more active trade and investment agenda” with Southeast Asian countries, which are wary of Beijing’s growing assertiveness but also rely on the Chinese trade.
Biden has resisted joining the CPTPP, which Washington exited under former US President Donald Trump, amid concerns it could lead to more American jobs being shipped abroad.