In a recorded message on Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden told a forum of Pacific island leaders, the United States would donate COVID-19 vaccines without strings attached.
The development comes in the wake of China becoming an increasingly more assertive competitor for influence in the Pacific region.
Washington and its allies have warned island nations in the Pacific to be wary of easy Chinese money and not fall into its debt trap.
While China has consistently stated that it engages with Pacific nations with mutual respect and on an equal footing it continues to dangle trade benefits in efforts to increase its influence in the region.
In a statement Biden told the Pacific Islands Forum, Washington would donate “half a billion” doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program starting this month, some of which will flow to the Pacific.
“We are not attaching any strings or conditions to these doses – this is about saving lives,” said Biden in the online forum, which consisted of leaders from several nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
While many Pacific island nations have been able to keep the Coronavirus-induced COVID-19 pandemic at bay, others, including Papua New Guinea and Fiji, are battling major outbreaks.
Biden also stated, that the United States was committed to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 2030. The issue is significant to low-lying island nations, given that global warming will increase the height of sea levels.
He emphasized that the U.S. would continue to remain engaged in the region.
“A free and open Indo-Pacific is vital to each of our nations’ security and prosperity and to all our shared futures,” said Biden.
While the the Pacific Islands Forum is traditionally the region’s most influential body, this year, in what might be a Chinese influence operation, nearly one-third of its 18 members said they were leaving the group over a leadership dispute.