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US opens embassy in Solomon Islands to counter China

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The United States opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday in its latest move to counter China’s push into the Pacific. The embassy in the capital, Honiara, is starting small, with a manager, a couple of State Department employees and a handful of local employees.

The United States previously operated an embassy in the Solomon Islands for five years before closing it in 1993 as part of a global reduction in diplomatic posts following the end of the Cold War. But China’s bold moves in the region have the United States.

It seeks to increase its commitment in a number of ways, such as by donating Covid-19 vaccines, returning Peace Corps volunteers to various island nations, and investing in forestry and tourism projects. “The embassy opening builds on our efforts to not only place more diplomatic personnel throughout the region, but also to engage more with our Pacific neighbors, connect US programs and resources with needs on the ground, and build people-to-people ties,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. .

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 that he planned to end a police training and exchange agreement with China. The US State Department notified lawmakers early last year that China’s growing influence in the region made reopening the Solomon Islands embassy a priority.

Solomon Islands has since signed a security pact with China, raising fears of a military buildup in the region, and the United States has responded by sending several high-level delegations.

The Solomon Islands switched allegiance from the self-governing island of Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, threatening close ties with the US dating back to World War II.

“We are seeing this link weaken as the PRC aggressively seeks to engage Solomon Islands political and business elites, using a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, potentially expensive infrastructure loans and potentially dangerous levels of debt,” the department said in a statement. December Notice to Congress which was obtained by The Associated Press.

A senior State Department official who insisted on anonymity to brief the media said the US had been encouraged by Solomon Islands’ commitment to continue working with traditional security partners such as Australia and the US, but he was still concerned about the secrecy surrounding the security agreement with Porcelana. He said that any kind of militarization in the Pacific by China would be a big concern.

The official said the US had not yet had in-depth talks with Fiji’s new leadership, so it was too early to say whether the police move indicated a change in direction for Fiji vis-à-vis China. The Fiji government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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