US pushes again for more influence in the Pacific

The United States has made another push for more influence in the Pacific, inviting a group of a dozen friends and neighbours to join a new regional alliance.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is intended to "strengthen ties" across the region - with US President Joe Biden enthusiastic about his country's renewed interest in what's happening at the bottom of the world.

"The United States is deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific," he said.

"We’re committed for the long-haul, ready to champion our vision for a positive future for the region, together with friends and partners including the nations in this room."

But there's one country not invited - China.

The United States' play for more power and influence is no secret - but its new pact is already raising eyebrows in Beijing.

"Whatever the name of the regional cooperation framework, it should promote free trade instead of engaging in protectionism in disguise," said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.

China is about to embark on its own five-stop tour of the Pacific, with rumours a number of bilateral agreements will be signed, including with the Solomon Islands.

Regional security and the growing influence of China has seen the US actively seek out partnerships with Pacific allies since Biden came to power.

He went a step further in Tokyo, suggesting the US would forcefully push back against any Chinese aggression on Taiwan.

Asked if he was willing to militarily defend the island, Biden replied he would.

"That's a commitment we made," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made it clear that Aotearoa joining the IPEF isn't about muscling anyone else out.

"This initiative comes at a time of challenge to our region's security and prosperity," she said.

"Together we can and will design a future that benefits all of our peoples. New Zealand ultimately aspires to the Indo-Pacific region to become freer and more open."

But the rising temperature will force New Zealand to walk a diplomatic tightrope.

The Prime Minister's trade trip across America begins tomorrow, and while there's a side dish of diplomacy being served - for now, being forced to choose between the United States and China, isn't on the agenda.