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PoliticsSolomon Islands

US will reopen Solomon Islands embassy

February 12, 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the US would reopen its embassy on the Solomon Islands to help Washington counter Chinese influence.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes a question on Ukraine during a joint press availability with Fiji acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in Nadi, Fiji
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised greater security to Pacific Island leadersImage: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

The US plans to reopen its embassy on the Solomon Islands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Saturday on nearby Fiji during a virtual meeting with 18 Pacific Island leaders.

During the virtual meeting, Blinken underscored Washington's attention to the region. The top US diplomat said the embassy on the Solomon Islands is being reestablished to help the US counter Chinese influence in the politically unstable country.

Separately, the US State Department said China was "utilizing a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, prospective costly infrastructure loans, and potentially dangerous debt levels" to coerce Indo-Pacific Island nations.

The US also plans to have Peace Corps volunteers serve on the Solomon Islands.

Washington shuttered its Solomon Islands embassy in the capital Honiara in 1993. The US maintained a consular presence there but placed the consulate under the direction of the US embassy in Papua New Guinea.

What is the connection between the Solomon Islands and China?

Last November, the Solomon Islands, with a population of at least 700,000 people, experienced political upheaval as riots lasting for three days culminated in an effort to storm the parliament. Much of the Chinatown in Honaira was set alight in the chaos.

Opposition to long-serving Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare helped fuel the unrest, though the causes were myriad and included poverty, unemployment, and rivalries between the islands. Popular anger against China was also a factor.

The Solomon Islands had long pursued diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a self-ruled island China sees as on of its provinces. But Sogavare abruptly severed ties with Taiwan in 2019 and sought closer ties with China. China is known for leveraging its economic and military power across the globe to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.

In December, Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote. He told lawmakers in an hour and a half-long speech that he had done nothing wrong and said he would refuse to bow before "the forces of evil" or "Taiwan's agents."

That month, authorities on the Solomon Islands said it had accepted Beijing's offer of six "liaison officers" to work with the local police force, and would also accept tactical riot gear such as shields, helmets, batons and other "non-lethal" items that could be used to confront and put down civil disobedience.

Who did Blinken meet during his visit to Fiji?

Blinken's visit to Fiji is the first by a US Secretary of State in 37 years. While in Fiji, Blinken held talks with Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Frank Bainimarama, who has led Fiji since seizing power in a 2000 coup, has not been seen in public since and remains in recovery in Australia following heart surgery.

Blinken promised greater security and economic resources for regional leaders to push back against China's growing influence.

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ar/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)