The US plans to open an embassy in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the US Department of State said on Friday, in Washington’s latest move 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 wrote 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.
The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, which has a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.
Washington this year reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands after a 30-year absence and the latest announcement from the department 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.
Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands this month announced that 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 concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the 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 under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
US President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking more than US$7 billion over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the department said last week.
The funds seen as key to insulating the countries from growing Chinese influence.
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