(Bloomberg) -- The US and Australia along with three other allies will form a new initiative that will assist Pacific Island countries in addressing challenges including climate change and security, as concerns about Chinese influence in the region grow.

The UK, New Zealand and Japan will also be part of the Partners in the Blue Pacific pact, an informal mechanism to assist Fiji, Samoa and other small nations in the region, according to a joint statement Friday. High-level officials from the five countries forming the initiative met in Washington on June 23 and 24 for consultations with heads of missions from Pacific nations, and observers from France and the European Union. 

“We are united in our shared determination to support a region that benefits the peoples of the Pacific,” according to the statement. “We are also united in how we realize this vision—according to principles of Pacific regionalism, sovereignty, transparency, accountability, and most of all, led and guided by the Pacific Islands.”

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Australia and New Zealand are racing to bolster ties with their Pacific neighbors after China shocked them in April by signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured Pacific island nations in May. Pacific nations will discuss issues around China’s growing interest in the region when leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum meet next month.

The Partners in the Blue Pacific pact will provide closer cooperation and provide more efficient support of Pacific islands’ priorities, according to the statement. Other challenges include the Covid-19 pandemic and growing pressure on rules-based international order.

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