Eyeing China, senior US lawmaker vows to back funding for Pacific islands

WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said on Friday he supported funding for U.S.-allied Pacific Island nations as a way to counter the influence of China, and would push to include them in any supplemental security aid bill.

“That’s such a critical part of our countering the malign influence of China, with the island nations that they’re buying off, as you know, one by one,” Representative Michael McCaul said at meeting with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau agreed to new 20-year funding programs with the United States last year under which Washington provides economic assistance, while gaining exclusive military access to strategic swaths of the Pacific that China covets.

But despite bipartisan support for the new programs, known as Compacts of Free Association, or COFAs, Congress has yet to approve the funding, even though the additional amount currently needed is a relatively small $2.3 billion, worrying the islands’ leaders.

McCaul said he has advocated for a $900 million package for COFA, but was open to other numbers.

The U.S. Senate this week passed a $95 billion foreign aid supplemental spending bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that did not include the COFA funding. McCaul said he would work to ensure the money was included in whatever is voted on in the House, likely in mid-March.

“The House is going to want to have its own imprimatur on this. Right? We’re not just going to rubber-stamp the Senate supplemental,” he said. — Reuters

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