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The United States and the Marshall Islands signed a series of agreements this week that will give the US a stronger presence in the western Pacific, a move aimed at shutting down China’s rising influence in the region, the Voice of America reported.
Under the agreement, the US will be able to control a vast area of the western Pacific that encompasses the Marshall Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. In return, Washington will provide the Pacific nation with $2.3 billion in economic aid over 20 years.
The agreement is the latest between Washington and three so-called Freely Associated States, which includes the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia – the latter two signed similar deals with the US in May.
The agreements come as China continues to expand its influence in the region, including fostering economic and security ties with the Pacific islands. Leaders in the Marshall Islands and Palau have lamented that Beijing continues to exert economic and political pressure on them because they diplomatically recognize Taiwan.
China considers self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory.
Meanwhile, diplomats and observers said the aid agreement was also meant to address the environmental and health impacts of dozens of US atmospheric nuclear weapons tests between 1946 and 1958 in the Marshall Islands.
The Pacific island country had asked for funds to deal with radioactive soil, dying coral reefs and elevated cancer rates among Marshall Islands citizens.
While the deal does not contain any reference to address the impacts of US nuclear testing, Marshallese officials said the government would “repurpose” $700 million under the agreement “to address the extraordinary needs of those who have suffered hardships and challenges from the nuclear testing program.”