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

During his visit to Fiji for talks with Pacific Islands leaders, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced that the United States is planning to open new embassy in the Solomon Islands.

Blinken arrived in Fiji on Saturday after visiting the Australian city of Melbourne where he had a meeting with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan.

The United States had previously operated an embassy in the South Pacific nation for five years, before closing it in 1993.

Since 1993, US diplomats from neighboring Papua New Guinea have been accredited to the Solomon Islands, which has a US consular agency.

Blinken’s announcement fits with a new Biden administration strategy for the Indo-Pacific that was announced on Friday and comes at the time when Washington is emphasizes building partnerships with allies and promising more diplomatic and security resources to the region.

The US embassy opening in the Solomons is also an effort to counter China’s growing influence and ambitions in the politically troubled Pacific Islands.

According to US State Department, Solomon Islanders cherished their history with Americans on the battlefields of World War II, but the US was in danger of losing its preferential ties as China “aggressively seeks to engage” elite politicians and businesspeople in the Solomon Islands.

The State Department said China had been “utilizing a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, prospective costly infrastructure loans, and potentially dangerous debt levels” when engaging with political and business leaders from the Solomon Islands.

“The United States has a strategic interest in enhancing our political, economic, and commercial relationship with Solomon Islands, the largest Pacific Island nation without a US embassy,” the State Department said.

New US embassy announcement comes after violent riots that shook the nation of 700,000 in November of last year, with rioters burning buildings and looting stores.

The riots grew from a peaceful protest against China’s growing influence in the Solomons and highlighted long-simmering regional rivalries, economic problems and concerns about the country’s increasing links with China.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared that he ‘had done nothing wrong’ and blamed the riots on ‘the forces of evil’ and ‘Taiwan’s agents.’

The State Department said it did not expect to build a new embassy immediately but would at first lease space at an initial set-up cost of $12.4 million. The embassy would be located in the capital, Honiara, and would start small, with two US employees and about five local staff.

According to the State Department, the Peace Corps was also planning to reopen an office in the Solomon Islands and that several other US agencies were establishing government positions with portfolios in the Solomons.

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