Hawaii

US Opens Embassy In Solomon Islands To Counter China

This story was written by Associated Press writer Nick Perry.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The United States opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday to counter China’s push into the Pacific.

The embassy in the capital, Honiara, starts off small, with a chargé d’affaires, a few foreign ministry officials and a handful of local employees. The US had previously operated an embassy in the Solomon Islands for five years before closing it in 1993 as part of a post-Cold War global downsizing of diplomatic posts.

But China’s bold moves in the region are prompting the US to step up its commitment in a variety of ways, such as donating COVID-19 vaccines, returning Peace Corps volunteers to several island nations, and investing in forestry and tourism projects.

“The embassy’s opening builds on our efforts not only to place more diplomatic personnel across the region, but also to continue working with our Pacific neighbors, connecting United States programs and resources to local needs, and building people to people.” relations,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in a statement.

FILE - Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, on November 24, 2018.  The United States opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday to counter China's push into the Pacific.  (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, file)
In Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, ships lie offshore. The United States opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday to counter China’s push into the Pacific. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, file)

The opening comes as Fiji’s new leader, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, appears to be reassessing some aspects of his nation’s engagement with China. Rabuka told the Fiji Times last week he plans to end a police training and exchange deal with China.

The US State Department told lawmakers early last year that China’s growing influence in the region has made reopening the Solomon Islands embassy a priority. Since then, the Solomon Islands have signed a security pact with China raising fears of a military buildup in the region, and the US has responded by sending several high-level delegations.

Solomon Islands moved to Beijing from the self-governing island of Taiwan in 2019, threatening close WWII ties with the US.

“We see that bond weakening as the People’s Republic of China aggressively seeks to engage Solomon Islands’ political and business elites, using a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, likely costly infrastructure loans and potentially dangerous levels of debt,” the department said in a December memo to Congress obtained from The Associated Press.

A senior State Department official, who insisted on anonymity to inform the media, said the US had been emboldened by the Solomon Islands’ pledge to continue working with traditional security partners such as Australia and the US, but remained concerned about the secrecy of the security deal with China.

He said any kind of militarization in the Pacific by China is a big problem.

The official said the US has yet to hold in-depth talks with the new Fijian leadership, so it’s too early to say whether the move in policing signals a change in direction for Fiji on China.

The Fijian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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