U.S. opens embassy in Solomon Islands, Blinken says
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States has opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands after a 30-year absence as it seeks to boost diplomatic relations in the Pacific as a counter to China.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced plans to open a diplomatic mission in the Pacific island nation during a visit to the region last year. The last U.S. embassy in the Solomons closed in 1993 amid post-Cold War budget cuts and the United States was represented there by an ambassador based in Papua New Guinea.
In a statement on Wednesday, Blinken said the State Department informed the Solomon Islands' government that the opening of the new embassy in the capital Honiara became official as of Jan. 27.
"The opening of the embassy builds on our efforts not only to place more diplomatic personnel throughout the region, but also to engage further with our Pacific neighbors, connect United States programs and resources with needs on the ground, and build people-to-people ties," he said.
The U.S. move comes amid concerns among Washington and its allies about Beijing's military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region after it struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands last year.
In September, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Pacific island leaders in a Washington summit at which he pledged to help stave off China's "economic coercion" and promised to work harder with allies and partners to address islanders' needs.
A joint declaration between Washington and 14 Pacific island states resolved to strengthen their partnership and said they shared a vision for a region where "democracy will be able to flourish."
Those endorsing the document included the Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, whose government had earlier indicated it would not sign, heightening concerns about his ties to China.
On Monday, the remote atoll nation of Kiribati said it would rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum, ending a split that had threatened unity at a time of increased superpower tensions in the strategically located region.
Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from self-ruled but Chinese-claimed Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, as did the Solomons.
The reopening of the embassy in the Solomons comes as Washington has been negotiating the renewal of cooperation agreements with three key Pacific island nations, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.
Under Compacts of Free Association (COFA) first agreed in the 1980s, Washington retains responsibility for the islands' defense and exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
Washington said it signed memorandums of understanding last month with the Marshall Islands and Palau and had reached consensus with them on terms of U.S. future economic assistance, but has not provided details.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh, Rami Ayyub and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Sandra Maler)