Residents of Tonga take to social media to welcome a plan by the US to open a new embassy in Nuku’alofa.
The United States said Tuesday it would expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, as it seeks to counter the growing influence of China in a region of intensifying great-power rivalry.
The US Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to officially confirmed the plan “during a virtual address to leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Fiji” this week on Wednesday.
“The diplomatic push comes amid concerns that China has supplanted the United States as the friend of choice for some Pacific island nations. China struck a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April despite American objections. And the Chinese foreign minister recently signed several other bilateral agreements during an eight-country tour of the region”, a report by The Washington Post says.
The new diplomatic initiatives come as the United States tries to restore some of its influence in the region, it said.
The commitments included the establishment of another embassy in Kiribati.
“We are significantly stepping up our game in the Pacific islands,” said a senior administration official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity ahead of the vice president’s PIF appearance. The official said the United States is not asking Pacific island nations to choose between it and China.
“We are focusing on our own engagement and our own interests and our own support,” the official said. “Of course contrasts [with China] will be made, and we would like to think that contrast looks favourably on us, where we’ve been a responsible security actor in the region, in fact, in the entire Indo-Pacific, for many decades and have helped to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The news has been applauded by the Tonga online community with many saying the move could help resolve long standing issues faced by many who wanted to travel to the US.
These people had to travel to Fiji first at a significant costs to apply at the US Embassy there for their visas but not all applicants were successful.