Palau, Pacific Islands

Pacific islands that were key World War II battlegrounds but largely neglected for the past 30 years are now back in the spotlight as China challenges traditional US supremacy in the region. Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, whose territories stretch thousands of kilometres across the Pacific, have been the recipients of largesse by Washington, Tokyo and other allied powers, but otherwise mostly ignored in recent decades. However, increasing competition between China and the US has dramatically altered the landscape, elevating the island nations beyond even their Cold War visibility when they were the site of strategic outposts and 1950s atom bomb tests. In recent years Washington’s attention was focused elsewhere and US funding grants to the three nations were slated to end in 2023. China was quick to spot the opportunity to woo new diplomatic allies and look for strategic advantage in the vast region, analysts said. “Reductions in development assistance, and redirections as to where that assistance is given have created a vacuum which China has been able to fill, particularly in addressing stated needs of Pacific island countries in relation to infrastructure,” said Pacific politics specialist Tess Newton Cain, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. Washington and its allies have only recently woken up to the challenge, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono making unprecedented visits to the region, taking their cheque books with them. “Recognition of the strategic value of the three north…

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