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

May 16, 2022

Bill would commission a GAO study on establishing new U.S. diplomatic outposts in Pacific nations and territories to deepen U.S. ties with Pacific Islands

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, has joined Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) in introducing the Expanding America’s Pacific Diplomatic Presence Act of 2022. This bipartisan legislation would 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.

“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.”

“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,” said Senator Cotton. “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.”

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.