US to open embassy in Solomon Islands to counter China’s influence

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The United States has said it will open an embassy in the Solomon Islands as it tries to increase its influence in the South Pacific nation before China becomes “strongly integrated”.

The plan was confirmed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after landing in Fiji on Saturday during a Pacific tour that started in Australia and will end in Hawaii.

The State Department says the Solomon Islands cherishes its history with Americans on World War II battlefields, but the United States risks losing preferential ties as China ‘aggressively seeks to engage’ elite politicians and businessmen in the Solomon Islands.

The move comes after riots rocked the nation of 700,000 in November as shops were looted and buildings set on fire.

The riots grew out of a peaceful protest and highlighted long-running regional rivalries, economic issues and concerns over the country’s growing ties with China.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote the following month, telling lawmakers in a fiery 90-minute speech that he had done nothing wrong and would not bow to “forces of evil” or “agents of Taiwan”.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (AP)

The United States previously operated an embassy in the Solomons for five years before closing it in 1993. Since then, American diplomats from neighboring Papua New Guinea have been accredited to the Solomons, which has a US consular agency.

The embassy announcement is part of the new U.S. strategy for the Indo-Pacific that was announced on Friday and emphasizes building partnerships with allies in the region as a way to counter influence and China’s growing ambitions.

In its notification to the U.S. Congress, the State Department said China had “used a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, expensive infrastructure loans and potentially dangerous levels of debt” in its dealings with leaders. Political and Commercial Solomon Islands.

The United States has a strategic interest in strengthening our political, economic, and commercial relationship with the Solomon Islands, the largest Pacific island nation without a U.S. Embassy,” the State Department wrote.

The US State Department has said it does not expect to build a new embassy anytime soon, but will lease space first at an initial cost of $12.4 million (9, £1 billion). The embassy would be located in the capital, Honiara, and would start small, with two American staff and about five local staff.

The State Department said the Peace Corps plans to reopen an office in the Solomon Islands and have its volunteers serve there, and that several U.S. agencies are creating government positions with portfolios in the Solomon Islands. .

Antoine Blinken
Mr Blinken meets with Fijian Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in Nadi (Pool/AP)

“The Department must be part of this increased American presence, rather than remaining a distant player,” he writes.

During his visit to Fiji, Blinken met with Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and other Pacific leaders to discuss regional issues, particularly the existential risk posed by climate change.

It was the first visit by a US Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985.

Sayed-Khaiyum said he welcomed renewed US engagement in the region and Joe Biden’s decision last year to join the Paris Agreement.

He said that in the past, Pacific island nations have sometimes felt overlooked by larger nations as “overflown” countries.

“Little dots spotted from executives’ airplane windows en route to meetings where they were talking about us instead of us, if they were talking about us at all,” he said.

Mr Blinken arrived in Fiji after visiting the Australian city of Melbourne where he met his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan.

The four nations form the so-called “Quad”, a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies that was created to counter China’s regional influence.

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