Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce plans for the embassy in the Solomon Islands, which switched its diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan in 2019, while on a visit to Fiji where he will host a virtual summit with 18 Pacific leaders, a state department official said.
Blinken flew to Fiji after a meeting in Melbourne of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, at which the so-called Quad pledged to deepen cooperation to ensure an Indo-Pacific region free from “coercion,” a thinly veiled swipe at China’s economic and military expansion.
In a briefing on the flight, a senior U.S. administration official told travelling reporters that “there are very clear indications that (China) want to create military relationships in the Pacific”.
“The most pressing case right now is what’s going on in the Solomon Islands. With Chinese security personnel bucking up an increasingly besieged president in a way that has caused a lot of anxieties across the region,” the official said.
Last November, violent protests erupted in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare refused to speak with protesters who had travelled from Malaita province, which had opposed the diplomatic switch to Beijing.
Around 200 police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea arrived in Honiara within days of the riots, at Sogavare’s request.
Sogavare accused the provincial government in Malaita, the most populous province in the country, of being “Taiwan’s agent”, and in December survived a no-confidence motion in parliament.
China later sent police advisers to help train Solomons police, and equipment including shields, helmets and batons
Blinken’s visit to Fiji, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in four decades, comes after the Biden administration issued a strategy overview for the Indo-Pacific in which it vowed to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the region to push back against China.
In the document, the United States vowed to modernise alliances, strengthen emerging partnerships and said it would pursue a “free and open Indo-Pacific … through a latticework of strong and mutually reinforcing coalitions.”
Under an action plan for the next 12-24 months, the document said Washington would “meaningfully expand” its diplomatic presence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands and prioritise key negotiations with Pacific island states that cover access for the U.S. military and which have appeared to stall in the past year.
Richard Clark, a spokesman for the president of one of the island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia, told Reuters a “tremendous amount of progress” was still needed in talks with Washington.
Blinken is in the region to emphasise the priority the United States attaches to the Indo-Pacific even as Washington grapples with a dangerous standoff with Moscow, which has massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, stoking Western fears of an invasion.