Australia and New Zealand Ambassadors Send Letters to Congress About COFA

Joint Letter to Congress

On February 22nd, the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Kevin Rudd, and the New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, Bede Corry, sent a joint letter to the U.S. Congressional leaders.

Both Rudd and Corry called for the inclusion of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) renewals to be included in the next legislation slated to be voted on. The COFA is an agreement between the United States and the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau where the United States would provide security guarantees, funding, and other forms of assistance.

In return, the United States has the exclusive right to build and operate military bases in the three countries. The reason why was that COFA funding is important to the three countries’ mutual economic, diplomatic, and security interests in the region. For example, Australia and New Zealand welcome the COFAs as being mutually supportive of their relationships with and assistance to other Pacific Island countries.

 

Australia and New Zealand Ambassador joint letter to U.S. Congressional outlining Compact of Free Association’s importance (Photo: X, formally known as Twitter/@CleoPaskal)

However, Rudd and Corry also pointed out that the Marhsall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau voiced the importance they place on the Compacts. They also highlighted the COFA as being strategically important for the United States and “likeminded partners” in the wider Pacific’s architecture.

The letter then pointed out that the passage of the COFA renewal is necessary to “uphold our mutual interests” in the vital region and that not passing it would have consequences. These consequences include the “heightened geopolitical and economic vulnerability” the three COFA states will face, as well as the United States’ reputation in the Oceania region. Furthermore, the lack of passing the COFA renewal will have a wider adverse impact in the Indo-Pacific region. They also wrote that the three nations will face significant economic and fiscal uncertainty and be forced to look for other sources of funding they believe would be more reliable.

Rudd and Corry emphasized that the COFA is the United States “flagship initiative in the region” and central for the United States to continue its presence and influence in Oceania. They then end the letter by saying that “as their closest friends in the Pacific,” they want to see the United States continue to be engaged in the region.

Analysis

The letter sent by Australia and New Zealand illustrates the worry that both countries have regarding the delays in passing the COFA renewal. However, the delay is of extreme concern for both countries since they heavily rely on the COFA to strengthen their position in the western Pacific. For example, Australia and New Zealand are heavily dependent on the sea line of communications that the COFA states are near to conduct trade. Furthermore, both countries also depend on the United States’ ability to build bases on and deploy troops to the COFA states as part of their defense planning.

Conversely, Australia and New Zealand are also extremely worried that China will step in to provide funding to the COFA countries if the United States continues to delay passing the COFA renewal. China would be better placed to significantly increase its influence in the three countries if they began providing economic assistance to the three countries. The country would then use this influence to eventually force the three countries to withdraw from the COFA agreement with the United States. This would significantly complicate Australia’s and New Zealand’s defense planning since China would be in a position to build bases or deploy troops to the islands. More likely, however, is that China would exert influence on the three countries to prevent their use by the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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