The US has increased its involvement in the Pacific over concerns about China’s influence.
The United States is on track to open a new embassy in Tonga this month, according to the top US diplomat for East Asia, as it ramps up its diplomatic presence in the Pacific region to counter China.
Daniel Kritenbrink told a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US also remains in talks with Vanuatu and Kiribati over their proposal to open embassies in each of those countries.
The State Department said in March it plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu. The US has diplomatic relations with the South Pacific island nation, which are currently handled by US diplomats based in Papua New Guinea.
The US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands in February after a 30-year absence.
Washington announced its intention to reopen the diplomatic mission after it emerged in April 2022 that the Solomon Islands had signed a secret security pact with China. In 2019, the Solomon Islands swapped diplomatic ties with Beijing from self-governed Taiwan, which China claims to be its own, a move quickly followed by Kiribati.
Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, retaining responsibility for defending the islands and giving it exclusive access to vast swathes of the Pacific.
Last September, US President Joe Biden invited Pacific leaders to the White House for a unique regional summit with a US president.
At the end of the two-day summit, the 14 Pacific island nations signed the Declaration on the US-Pacific Partnership, pledging to work together to ensure a peaceful region where “democracy may flourish” and climate change make it the “top priority”. .
The Biden administration is requesting $7.1 billion from Congress over the next 20 years for economic aid to the three countries, funds seen as key to protecting them from growing Chinese influence in the region.
The US is also planning a possible Biden stop in Papua New Guinea on May 22 as part of an intensified cooperation with the Pacific Islands.