"This report focuses on the 14 sovereign nations of the Southwest Pacific, or Pacific Islands region, and the major external powers (the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan, and China). It provides an explanation of the region's main geographical, political, and economic characteristics and discusses United States interests in the Pacific and the increased influence of China, which has become a growing force in the region. The report describes policy options as considered at the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, held in Washington, DC, in March 2007. Although small in total population (approximately 8 million) and relatively low in economic development, the Southwest Pacific is strategically important. The United States plays an overarching security role in the region, but it is not the only provider of security, nor the principal source of foreign aid. It has relied upon Australia and New Zealand to help promote development and maintain political stability in the region. Key components of U.S. engagement in the Pacific include its territories (Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa), the Freely Associated States (Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau), military bases on Guam and Kwajalein atoll (Marshall Islands), and relatively limited aid and economic programs. Some experts argue that U.S. involvement in the Southwest Pacific has waned since the end of the Cold War, leaving a power vacuum, and that the United States should pay greater attention to the region and its problems."
CRS Report for Congress, RL34086