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Pacific nation to host US embassy after 3 decades – media

The United States is planning to open its first embassy on the Solomon Islands in 29 years following violent riots on the island and the nation’s increase in relations with China, media reported on Saturday, citing officials.

AP obtained a US State Department memo to Congress, which indicated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would announce the opening of an embassy on the islands during a visit to neighboring nation Fiji. Blinken – who arrived in Fiji on Saturday local time – is said to hope that the move will bolster the US’ presence in the Pacific as its diplomatic conflict with China continues.

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“The United States has a strategic interest in enhancing our political, economic, and commercial relationship with Solomon Islands, the largest Pacific Island nation without a U.S. Embassy,” the State Department said in its memo.

Acknowledging China’s increased relationship with the Solomon Islands, the State Department said it needed to stop being “a remote player.”

The embassy – which will reportedly start with just two US staffers and five locals – will be the US’ first on the Solomon Islands since it cut back its diplomatic presence 29 years ago. The US closed its last Solomon Islands embassy in July 1993 under President Bill Clinton.

The Solomon Islands severed ties with Taiwan in 2019 in favor of an increased relationship with Beijing. Riots in the capital city, Honiara subsequently broke out in November, with violent rioters setting fire to the city’s Chinatown.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare blamed the unrest on incitement from abroad, though refused to name the state in question, simply commenting, “We know who they are.”

The Solomon Islands accepted an offer from Beijing in December to help combat the riots, and six officers along with riot equipment were sent to train and equip local forces.

“China firmly supports the government of Solomon Islands in defending the country’s stability, resolutely safeguards the relations between China and Solomon Islands and the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens there, and strongly condemns any illegal and violent action,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at the time.

The US currently advises Americans not to travel to the Solomon Islands “due to Covid-19,” listing the country in its red alert ‘do not travel’ section.

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