US reopens Solomons embassy, vying with China for influence

Marines salute after hoisting the national flag at the US embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands on February 2, 2023. Photo by Charley PIRINGI / AFP

Honiara, Solomon Islands --The United States reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday after a 30-year hiatus, part of a bid to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific.

Re-establishing the diplomatic outpost was a renewal "of our commitment to the people of Solomon Islands and our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region", US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The United States closed its embassy in the capital Honiara in 1993 after the end of the Cold War led to a reduction in diplomatic posts and a shift in priorities.

Washington signalled its intent to reopen it in early 2022, before the Solomons signed a secret security pact with China later the same year.

The deal, penned by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Beijing, sparked fears among Western powers that the Solomons could provide China with a new foothold in the Pacific.

US diplomat Russell Corneau, the interim representative in Honiara, said at the opening ceremony that the embassy would "serve as a key platform" between his government and the Solomons.

Blinken's statement added that the reopening "builds on our efforts to place more diplomatic personnel throughout the region and engage further with our Pacific neighbours".

Sogavare did not attend the opening ceremony, but foreign affairs secretary Colin Beck said the embassy's reopening was "welcomed by the government and people of the Solomon Islands".

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Thursday that Beijing was "willing to work with all parties" to help the island nation develop.

"China has no intention of competing with anyone for influence in the Pacific Island region," she said.

On the streets of Honiara, there were mixed reactions to the re-opening.

Local artist Natty Sala described it as a "step in the right direction" for improved diplomatic ties.

Sala hoped the US would step up efforts to remove the tonnes of unexploded Japanese and American ordnance which still litters the Solomons' shores, dating back to some of the fiercest battles of World War II.

"This is good news for the Solomon Islands."

While 50-year-old Lois Bana appreciated the United States re-establishing an embassy, she worried whether it was just part of the "geopolitics" to counter China's influence in the region.

© Agence France-Presse

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