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Hirono, Cotton Introduce Bill to Expand U.S. Diplomatic Presence in the Pacific Islands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced the Expanding America’s Pacific Diplomatic Presence Act of 2022, bipartisan legislation to enhance the United States’ presence in the Pacific Island region by studying the feasibility of creating new U.S. diplomatic posts in Pacific Island nations and territories that do not currently have U.S. embassies. Expanding our presence would enable U.S. diplomats to build lasting relationships with the people and governments of the Pacific Islands and make it easier for U.S. nationals living in and visiting the region to access diplomatic services and assistance. A stronger U.S. diplomatic commitment to the region would simultaneously help to counter China’s growing presence there. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

“The United States has long had important partnerships with many nations in the Pacific region,” said Senator Hirono. “But for various reasons, the U.S. still does not have a permanent diplomatic presence in many of these nations. Expanding our diplomatic presence in the Pacific would benefit the United States, host countries, partners and allies, and U.S. citizens living and traveling in the region. By commissioning a study to understand the opportunities and challenges of potential expansion, this bill would mark a critical first step toward expanding our presence in a strategic and efficient way.”

“Bolstering the United States’ presence in the Pacific islands is critical to countering Chinese aggression and expansion. Establishing additional diplomatic posts in the region will allow the United States to better follow events on the ground, engage with local leaders, coordinate regional efforts with allies and partners, and counter Chinese influence,” said Cotton.

Specifically, the Expanding America’s Pacific Diplomatic Presence Act directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a feasibility study on establishing new diplomatic posts in Pacific Island nations and territories that currently do not have a U.S. Embassy or other U.S. diplomatic post. These nations and territories include Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Niue, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia. The results of this study would inform lawmakers and national security decision makers as they seek opportunities to bolster the U.S.’s diplomatic engagement in the region.            

The United States enjoys strong historical ties, economic relationships, and cultural links with many Pacific Island nations. Establishing new U.S. diplomatic posts in the Pacific Islands would support efforts to strengthen those ties and build lasting relationships in the region by enabling U.S. diplomats to have more regular interactions with the governments of the Pacific Islands and learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing each nation.

Additionally, the year-round presence of more U.S. diplomats would improve the United States’ ability to compete with China’s growing presence in the region and would enhance coordination with Australia, New Zealand, and Japan on economic development assistance and humanitarian aid. An expanded diplomatic presence in the region would also improve oversight of U.S. government funded programs in the region.

“Our relationship with the Pacific region carries both strategic and cultural significance,” said Senator Markey. “By increasing our presence and engagement within the Pacific region, we can best promote our values and defend our interests.  I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Expanding America’s Pacific Diplomatic Presence Act which will transform and strengthen our relationships in this important region.”

“Expanding U.S. diplomatic presence in the Pacific Islands will strengthen our ability to engage with our regional partners and counter Communist China’s malign influence while advancing freedom, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” said Senator Hagerty. “As former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and as U.S. Senator, I strongly support this important bipartisan effort to improve U.S. diplomatic engagement with the strategically important Pacific Islands.”

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hirono is a leading champion for expanding the United States’ military and diplomatic presence in the Pacific. Last year, she helped pass the FY2022 NDAA, which  authorizes $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to improve the capabilities of U.S. Armed Forces in the Indo-Pacific region. She has also been outspoken on the need for the Department of Defense to identify options for long-term fuel storage in the Pacific following the announced closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Additionally, Senator Hirono has championed the Compacts of Free Association and worked to protect and expand benefits for citizens of the Freely Associated States living in the U.S.