The US opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday in its latest move to counter China's push into the Pacific. The embassy is starting small, with a chargé d'affaires, a couple of State Department staff members and a handful of local employees. The US 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 after the end of the Cold War. But China's bold moves in the region have the US seeking to increase its engagement in a number of ways, such as by donating COVID-19 vaccines, bringing back Peace Corps volunteers to several island nations, and investing in forestry and tourism projects, the AP reports.
The opening of the embassy in the Solomon Islands 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 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. Since then, the Solomons has signed a security pact with China, raising fears of a military buildup in the region, and the US has countered by sending several high-level delegations.
The Solomon Islands switched allegiance from the self-ruled island of Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, threatening the close ties with the US that date back to World War II—when islanders risked their lives to send rescuers to the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and his crew. A senior State Department official said the US is encouraged by the Solomon Islands' commitment to continue working with traditional security partners such as Australia and the US but remains concerned about the secrecy surrounding the security agreement with China. He said any type of militarization in the Pacific by China would be a great concern.
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