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Sen. Schatz Co-Introduces Bipartisan Bill To Elevate Oceania In US Foreign Policy

May 21, 2021, 11:20 AM HST
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US Sen. Brian Schatz co-introduced the Honoring OCEANIA Act. Map Courtesy: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

US Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and US Representatives Ami Bera, M.D. (D-CA) and Don Young (R-K) introduced the Honoring Our Commitment to Elevate America’s Neighbor Islands and Allies Act, or Honoring OCEANIA Act.

The bipartisan bill would elevate all of Oceania in US foreign policymaking to help deliver a robust diplomatic and development commitment to support the long-term growth, governance and resilience needs of the region. 

Oceania is a geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and includes a population of more than 41 million.

“We have deep cultural, historical and familial ties to Oceania grounded in our shared commitment to democratic progress, protecting marine resources and combating the global climate crisis,” said Sen. Schatz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our bill firms up our foreign policy commitment to Oceania by ensuring that we are aligning all the tools of US diplomacy to strengthen people-to-people ties and support the economic needs and long-term resilience goals of our allies and partners in the region.” 

The Honoring OCEANIA Act would:

  • Require the secretary of State and the USAID administrator to include all independent least developed and developing countries of Oceania in existing strategic planning and multi-sector program evaluation processes so that the United States aligns its foreign assistance mission in Oceania to advance the needs of the region.
  • Require the CEO of the US International Development Finance Corporation to produce a strategy for increasing development finance assistance to Oceania countries wherever there is appropriate capacity to absorb private financing.
  • Require the secretary of State to establish a program to strengthen the disaster risk reduction and resilience of Oceania countries that would build national first responder capacity and develop early-warning systems that can reach all communities vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.
  • Elevate all of Oceania in US national security and economic policy decisions to ensure the United States is working with allies to address region issues, such as: maritime security; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; environmental protection; and disaster preparedness.
  • Require the secretary of State, in collaboration with other agencies, to develop a program to inform the needs assessments and planning of Oceania countries to protect critical infrastructure against climate threats and other hazards.
  • Require the secretaries of State and Health and Human Services to establish a program to provide funding and other expertise that will help build public health capacity and improve access to care and local health outcomes.
  • Establish an Oceania Restoration and Hazards Removal Program at the Department of State that would support the surveying, isolation and clearing of buried, abandoned and unexploded ordinances from WWII and submerged vessels that pose a risk to the marine environment.
  • Establish a program to provide technical and financial assistance to civil society organizations and governments to address corruption in Oceania.
  • Direct the secretaries of State, with other agency heads, to work together to use the Global Magnitsky Act to identify and sanction foreign individuals engaged in corrupt practices in Oceania that threaten economic and democratic progress.
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“During my time as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee I was fortunate to travel throughout Oceania where I developed a greater understanding of the US-Oceania relationship — one that we often overlook and take for granted,” Sen. Murkowski said. “Rather than being a reliable ally and devoting resources to promote sustainability in the region, the United States has counted on other nations to fill the gaps. My experience working in the Arctic has taught me that it takes a commitment and dedication to account for people and places far from the US mainland.

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“America’s current policies are not robust enough to support the complex and increasing security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. We know the Chinese are eager to assert influence in this region, making it imperative for us to give this the attention it deserves. Among many provisions, the Honoring OCEANIA Act calls for a broader diplomatic and development commitment to Oceania and strengthens traditional maritime security programs developed by the US Navy and US Coast Guard. The bill also provides significant targeted assistance in areas such as disaster risk reduction, maritime security and other sustainable development goals.”

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