US plans embassy in Solomon Islands to counter China

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NADI, Fiji, Feb 12 (Reuters) – The United States will open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday as he committed more diplomatic and security resources to the Pacific to counter the China’s desire to exert greater influence. .

Blinken, in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) virtual summit of regional leaders, heard their concerns about the need for real action on climate change and complaints that they had long been neglected by big players nations.

“Fiji and all Pacific island nations are a vital part of the Indo-Pacific region,” Blinken said at a press conference with Fiji’s acting prime minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyu.

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Sayed-Khaiyu noted that Fiji and other Pacific nations are guardians of the largest ocean continent in the world, which is crucial for the well-being of everyone in the world.

“Despite this, Fiji and our smaller neighboring states have sometimes felt like borrowing an American term, like a country being flown over,” he said.

“Small dots spotted on leaders’ planes en route to meetings where they talked about us rather than with us, if they talked about us,” he said, adding that he hoped the visit marked the beginning of a more direct relationship between the United States and the Pacific.

Blinken flew to Fiji after a meeting in Melbourne of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, during which the so-called Quad pledged to deepen cooperation to ensure an Indo-Pacific region free of “coercion”, a thinly veiled blow against China. economic and military expansion. Read more

“It’s not at all about us being here, coming here, concentrating here for security reasons. It’s much more fundamental than that,” Blinken said. “When we look at this region that we share, we see it as the region of the future.”

CHINA’S MILITARY PUSH

During a briefing on the flight to Fiji, a senior US administration official told traveling reporters that “there are very clear indications that (China) wants to create a military relationship in the Pacific.”

“The most urgent case right now is what is happening in the Solomon Islands. With Chinese security personnel standing up to an increasingly beleaguered president in a way that has caused a lot of anxiety in the region “, said the manager.

The Solomon Islands transferred its diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan in 2019.

Violent protests erupted in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, in November after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare refused to speak with protesters who had traveled from Malaita province, which had opposed the diplomatic crossing to Beijing . Read more

Around 200 police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea arrived in Honiara days after the riots, at Sogavare’s request.

Sogavare accused the provincial government of Malaita, the country’s most populous province, of being “Taiwan’s agent” and survived a no-confidence motion in parliament in December. Read more

China then sent police advisers to help train the Solomons police, along with equipment including shields, helmets and batons.

INDO-PAC STRATEGY

Blinken’s visit to Fiji, the first by a US secretary of state in four decades, came after the Biden administration released an outline of the Indo-Pacific strategy in which it pledged to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the region to push back against China. . Read more

As part of an action plan for the next 12-24 months, the document says Washington will “significantly expand” its diplomatic presence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands and prioritize negotiations key with Pacific island states that cover US military access and which have appeared to stagnate over the past year. Read more

Richard Clark, spokesman for the president of one of the island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia, told Reuters there was “considerable progress” to be made in talks with Washington.

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Fiji, David Brunnstrom in Washington, John Mair and Kirsty Needham in Sydney; and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Lincoln Feast and William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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