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2 Feb, 2023 01:14

US makes diplomatic move targeting China

Washington sends diplomats to Solomon Islands after 30-year absence
US makes diplomatic move targeting China

The US embassy in the Solomon Islands reopened on Thursday, decades after being shut down as redundant, amid concerns in Washington about the South Pacific archipelago’s overtures to Beijing. 

The mission in Honiara will consist of a charge d’affaires, a “couple” of State Department employees and a “handful” of locals, according to Associated Press, which described the reopening as part of an effort to “counter China’s push into the Pacific.”

In a pre-recorded statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that through its new embassy, Washington will be “better positioned” to advance democracy and “tackle shared challenges.”

Located about 1,800 kilometers northeast of Australia, the Solomons last hosted a US diplomatic mission in 1993, when the State Department decided to downsize due to the end of the Cold War. The US had played a key role in liberating the archipelago from Japanese occupation during the Second World War, in the bloody Guadalcanal campaign.

In 2019, however, Honiara decided to transfer its diplomatic relations with China from the nationalist exiles in Taiwan to the Communist government in Beijing. The decision touched off riots in Guadalcanal, with protesters targeting Chinese businesses and setting fire to the prime minister’s residence.

In 2022, Honiara signed a security agreement with China, causing further alarm in the US and Australia. The State Department informed Congress that reopening the embassy was a priority given China’s “growing influence” and fears of a military build-up in the Solomons.

The US had told the Solomons that Washington would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any “permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation” by China.

The Australian government said any kind of Chinese naval base in the archipelago would be a “red line” for Canberra, while some commentators even called for invading the islands.

In response to those concerns, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that Australia remains the “security partner of choice,” and issued assurances that there would be no Chinese military base, insisting the security pact with Beijing “had solely domestic applications.”