The Biden administration on Thursday released the first U.S. strategy to partner with the vast array of Pacific Islands, saying it will help them bolster awareness of their maritime domains and increase U.S. presence for law enforcement and training through the Coast Guard, Defense Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Pacific Partnership Strategy of the U.S. builds on and extends the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the U.S. announced in February to counter competition and threats from China, combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, help nations, states and territories better cope with climate change, and ensure sovereignty.
“These challenges demand renewed U.S. engagement across the full Pacific Islands region,” says the 16-page Pacific Partnership Strategy. “To that end, President Biden is elevating broader and deeper engagement with the Pacific Islands as a priority of U.S. foreign policy.”
The strategy was released in conjunction with the administration this week hosting a two-day U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, D.C.
One line of effort of the new strategy is to “Build U.S. Capacity to Support the Pacific” and calls for more maritime domain awareness capacity so that the “Pacific Islands have the capability to monitor their maritime domains, including fisheries and protected areas,” combat drug trafficking and further maritime security generally.
Earlier this week, a senior administration official told reporters on background that the new strategy for the Pacific Island countries will leverage a commitment made in May by the U.S., Australia, India and Japan for an Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness. That initiative aims in part to take advantage of existing commercial technologies and data such as commercial satellites that can observe illicit maritime activity such as IUU fishing.
“Part of this is to provide space-based capabilities that will allow ships that turn off their transponders to be tracked, even when they seek not to be noticed,” the administration official said. “And then the ability to vector ships directly rather than having to search vast areas with very little notice on where this illegal fishing is occurring, that’s a very significant step in this very challenging battle.”
The increased support from the Coast Guard, DoD and NOAA will be executed through “recurring subject matter expert exchanges,” the strategy says. “We will pursue opportunities for capacity building on international law of the sea, port security and marine pollution, to counter threats such as IUU fishing, wildlife and drug trafficking, and safeguard coastal and marine ecosystems.”
The strategy also mentions the need to “Build cybersecurity capacity” to strengthen open communications and connectivity among the Pacific Islands as part of a larger effort to boost economic opportunities and growth.