US to open embassy in Vanuatu as it seeks to counter China in the Pacific

The United States plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu, the state department has confirmed, as Washington moves to boost its diplomatic presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.

“Consistent with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the US government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” the department said in a statement.

“Establishing US embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” it said on Friday.

The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation with a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is currently represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.

The US reopened its embassy in Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence and the latest state department announcement follows a visit this month to the region, including Vanuatu, by US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell. Other US embassies are planned in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tonga.

The Solomon Islands government announced last month it had awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.

The US and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.

Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defence and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.

The Biden administration is seeking more than $7bn over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the state department said last week – funds seen as key to insulating them from growing Chinese influence.

(Source: Reuters)