Solomon Islands Embassy Updates: According to a senior US State Department source, the US aims to re-establish an embassy in the Solomon Islands as part of its efforts to strengthen its presence in a region where China is rapidly growing its influence.
During a visit to neighboring Fiji, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce the opening of a new embassy in the Pacific island state, 29 years after the US downsized its diplomatic presence in Honiara.
The action comes just months after riots in the 800,000-strong island chain in November, in which protestors attempted to storm parliament and then went on a three-day rampage, torching much of Honiara’s Chinatown.
Opposition to veteran Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare prompted the disturbance, which was fueled in part by poverty, unemployment, and inter-island rivalries, although anti-China sentiment also played a role. The US embassy in the capital of the Solomon Islands was dissolved in 1993, and the country is currently represented by a consulate, as well as an embassy in the city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby.
Blinken arrived in Fiji after a conference of the US, Japan, India, and Australia in Melbourne when the so-called Quad promised to increase collaboration to maintain an Indo-Pacific region free of “coercion,” a thinly veiled jab at China’s economic and military expansion. “There are very obvious indicators that (China) want to develop military partnerships in the Pacific,” a senior US administration official told traveling reporters during a briefing on the flight.
“Right now, the most important case is the situation in the Solomon Islands. The official stated, “With Chinese security officers bolstering an increasingly embattled president in a way that has caused a lot of anxiety across the area.” As foreign peacekeepers began to leave the Pacific nation after being deployed during the fatal demonstrations, China announced in December that it would send police advisers and riot gear.
Sogavare’s efforts to build stronger connections with Beijing after unexpectedly severing off the island’s long-standing ties with Taiwan in November were a subplot to the upheaval. China opposes any official contacts between other countries and Taiwan, which it considers to be its own territory awaiting reunification.
In December, the Solomons government said that it had accepted Beijing’s offer of six “liaison officers” to train its police force and provide “non-lethal” equipment such as shields, helmets, batons, and other items. China has stepped up its efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally in recent years, with eight countries switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing since 2016.
The reopening of the Solomon Islands mission will expand on the US attempts to put more diplomatic staff throughout the region, according to a diplomat at the US embassy in Port Moresby.
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