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Guam and American Samoa's PIF membership bid under federal review

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Washington, D.C. — The US government is conducting a policy review to determine whether it would endorse the US Pacific territories' bids to gain membership seats in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

The Office of the Spokesperson for the Department of State noted that under the US Constitution and longstanding practice, the federal government has full responsibility to conduct the foreign relations of all areas under US jurisdiction.

The Department of State and Department of the Interior have initiated a full policy review following American Samoa's recent submission of its petition for associate membership with the Forum, with the ultimate goal of becoming a full-fledged member.

Guam filed its membership application in 2022 but its bid was opposed by the federal government.

Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas currently hold an observer status granted by the Forum in 2011 upon the Department of State's request.

The Office of the Spokesperson said the observer designation reflected "the positive relationships and shared cultural ties between these US territories and PIF members, and the common challenges and interests we share".

"The Department of State carefully considers any requests from US territories to participate in international organisations, and we support participation in appropriate settings and within appropriate boundaries," the office said in an email to the Pacific Island Times.

The Forum, previously ignored by Washington, is emerging as the region's most influential bloc amid a great power competition in the Pacific. Its member states are typically perceived as pawns in the diplomatic game among the world's superpowers.

Several island states are recipients of China's Belt and Road Initiative, which brings projects that analysts characterized as "showpieces" designed to tug them into Beijing's circuit.

Not to be outdone, the US has accelerated its own move. President Joseph Biden Jr hosted Forum leaders at the White House in 2022 and 2023, pledging millions in economic assistance to the region.

The Office of the Spokesperson said State and Interior officials are "in close consultation with the US territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as well as the PIF Secretariat, to make a determination on whether the US federal government will support the territories' bids to upgrade their memberships in the PIF from observers to associate members."

Formed in 1971, PIF is an inter-governmental organization that "aims to enhance cooperation among countries and territories of Oceania, including formation of a trade bloc and regional peacekeeping operations."

The organisation comprises 18 members. Other than New Caledonia and French Polynesia, which are both French territories, all members are self-ruled.

This story was first published by Pacific Island Times.