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Trump meets Pacific islands leaders to boost US ties
[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump met on Tuesday at the White House with the leaders of the tiny, but strategic states of Micronesia and other Pacific island nations to underline the leading US role in the region.
The brief but symbolic meeting demonstrated US support at a time when Washington is pushing back against expanding Chinese influence in the Pacific.
Mr Trump hosted the presidents of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
After, they issued a joint statement to "jointly reaffirm our interest in a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region."
"It is in our mutual interest that the Pacific Ocean remains an important and vibrant corridor for maritime trade," the statement said in a possible message to China, which is projecting naval power further into previously US-dominated waters.
A senior White House official said "President Trump has been directing an unprecedented level of focus on the Pacific Islands, in recognition of the fact that the United States is a Pacific nation, with immutable strategic, economic, cultural and people-to-people links in the islands."
The tiny countries, formed from sprawling but lightly populated archipelagos, have what are known as compacts of free association with the United States dating back to the aftermath of World War II.
Washington pays much of their budgets and in return uses the territories as important links in a huge chain of military bases across the ocean.