USA

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

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The US says 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 embedded”.

The reasoning was explained in a State Department notification to Congress that was obtained by The Associated Press. It came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Fiji on Saturday midway through a Pacific tour that began in Australia and finishes in Hawaii.

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

The move comes after rioting rocked the nation of 700,000 in November as stores were looted and buildings set on fire. The riots grew from a peaceful protest and highlighted long-simmering regional rivalries, economic problems, and concerns about the country’s increasing links 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 down to “the forces of evil” or to “Taiwan’s agents”.

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

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

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 dollars (£9.1 million). The embassy would be located in the capital, Honiara, and would start small, with two US employees and about five local staff.

 

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