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US wants to work with China to help Pacific isles

US wants to work with China to help Pacific isles

The U.S. plans to increase development aid and coordinate with strategic rival China and other foreign donors to help impoverished Pacific island nations, a senior official said Wednesday ahead of a meeting of regional leaders.
The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, said despite enduring strategic and political interests in the region dating from before World War II, Washington has reduced diplomatic missions there and assistance over the past 20 years.
As part of efforts to reverse that trend as the Obama administration steps up engagement across the Asia-Pacific, the U.S. Agency for International Development will open a regional office in Papua New Guinea this year to administer a $21 million grant to help islands cope with the effects of climate change.
Campbell described low-lying atolls in the Pacific as the "canary in the coal mine" for climate change. Islanders also suffer serious poverty and health problems, have to pay some of the highest energy costs in the world, and remain hampered by unexploded ordnance remaining from the world war, he said.
He said the U.S. wants to work closely with allies and regional powers Australia and New Zealand and improve aid coordination with other donors, including China.
He said China, and to a lesser extent its rival Taiwan, have constructed large buildings and stadiums in Pacific island capitals. That reflected Beijing's growing geopolitical influence, but in some cases local governments cannot afford to heat or cool such structures.
"They indicate China's interest in the Pacific. It's a natural thing. We welcome a closer dialogue with China in this regard, but we have to think about how to use scarce resources," Campbell said.
Campbell was speaking at the Center of Strategic and International Studies think thank in Washington, before leaving for a meeting of Pacific leaders that began Wednesday in Auckland, New Zealand. The 40-strong U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides includes senior White House, defense, commerce, aid and coast guard officials.
In March, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told lawmakers the U.S. risked falling behind China in the competition for global influence as Beijing woos Pacific island leaders.