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 Friday, boosting Washington’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific.
Fiji’s announcement to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Prosperity Framework (IPEF) comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi travels to Kiribati for an eight-nation tour of the Pacific island nation where Beijing and Washington battle it out. influences.
Wang’s visit comes after China and the Solomon Islands signed a security deal earlier this year that sparked panic in the United States, Australia and New Zealand over concerns that Beijing was targeting military strongholds in the region. China denies any intention to build a military base or “harm other countries’ interests”.
Wang’s trip coincides with a visit to Fiji by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is due to meet Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama later on Friday.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said in a statement that the United States and Fiji are united in “our commitment to a free, open and prosperous region” and that the island nation has a particularly valuable perspective on climate change.
As of Friday afternoon, the Fiji government had not announced its membership in IPEF.
Rather than open up market access like traditional free trade agreements, IPEF aims to foster common standards in four broad areas: trade; supply chains; clean energy, decarbonization and infrastructure; and taxation and anti-corruption.
“I thought a good climate change and trade initiative would attract most of the Pacific islands,” Deborah Elms, president of the Asia Business Trade Association, told Al Jazeera.
“These island nations are particularly vulnerable given the twin threats of uncontrolled climate change and the resulting disruption to trade patterns. One of the IPEF pillars should address these issues in some way. Therefore, it is likely that Fiji’s decision to join the IPEF’s clean pillar may It’s a way to help meet the challenge.”
Biden launched the IPEF in Tokyo on Monday, which also includes India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Vietnam, as part of a tour of Asia aimed at reaffirming U.S. engagement in the region.
While countries in the region have welcomed Biden’s engagement efforts, the framework has been criticized for not giving members much-needed access to the U.S. market.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday Urge U.S. to return to comprehensive regional trade deal It withdrew in 2017, describing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as the “gold standard” for developing deeper economic ties.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said earlier this month that the United States should “adopt a more aggressive trade and investment agenda” with Southeast Asian nations, which are wary of Beijing’s increasingly assertive attitude, but also Depends on China for trade.
Biden has refused to join the CPTPP, which Washington pulled out of under former U.S. President Donald Trump, over concerns it could lead to more U.S. jobs being moved overseas.