The US had operated an embassy in the Solomon Islands for five years before it was closed in 1993
The US has announced intentions to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, which was closed in 1993, to counter China’s expanding influence in the Pacific.
The embassy’s announcement is in line with the Biden administration’s new Indo-Pacific policy that emphasizes strengthening ties with regional allies as a means of countering China’s rising influence and ambitions.
This announcement came months after the 2021 riots in Solomon Islands capital city Honiara, which erupted from a protest. It emphasized long-simmering regional tensions, economic difficulties, and fears over the country’s expanding connections with China, following the switch of its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019.
The US stated that China has aggressively sought to engage political and business leaders in the Solomons. Since then, US diplomats from Papua New Guinean have been assigned to the Solomon Islands, maintaining a consular presence.
The Solomon Islands is the Pacific’s largest island nation without a US embassy. The embassy will be based in Honiara, the capital, and will initially employ two Americans.
Importance of Solomon Island
The Solomon Islands is strategically located in the South Pacific, spanning crucial water lines of communication that connect Australia and the United States to Asia. But the small size, remoteness, overpopulation, poverty, and climate change all pose substantial development challenges for the Solomon Islands and other small Pacific territories.
While traditional South Pacific allies such as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand prioritize good governance, Pacific countries are more willing to receive actual economic aid, infrastructure, and climate change action.
China’s principal interests in the South Pacific include:
- Diplomatic isolation of Taiwan.
- Protection of the sizable Chinese expatriate community there.
- The security of its fisheries and mining industries.
While China denies the intention of military expansion, its political co-optation tactics and its economic and military might have raised security concerns among South Pacific countries and their traditional allies.
On the other hand, South Pacific countries are fiercely protective of their sovereignty and regional powers. One fear is that China may construct a military base in the South Pacific through commercial bribery, corruption, and debt. A base like this would cut the US off from its crucial partner Australia, forcing Australia to protect its maritime interests on its own. As a result, Australia, the United States, and New Zealand are increasing diplomatic and economic attention to these vulnerable states to counter China’s growing influence in their backyard.
Another worry is that China’s exploitative political and economic practices may exacerbate South Pacific countries’ already shaky political institutions, posing additional security issues, including corruption, illegal migration, drugs, and crime.
Some claim that the US and its partners’ failure to address the needs of South Pacific governments for infrastructure and development created a window of opportunity for China in the area.