Fears over China influence leads US to reopen Solomon Islands embassy

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Construction of the Solomon Islands National Stadium in the capital Honiara was originally being sponsored by Taiwan but China is now shouldering the major costs of hosting the 2023 Pacific Games
Construction of the Solomon Islands National Stadium in the capital Honiara was originally being sponsored by Taiwan - hence the early signboard - but China stepped in and is now shouldering the major costs of hosting the postponed 2023 Pacific Games. Image: Saipan Tribune

RNZ Pacific

Washington has announced plans to reopen the United States Embassy in Solomon Islands.

Inside the Games reports that the move is a bid to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, which has seen Beijing fund infrastructure for this year’s Pacific Games which take place later this year.

The US Department of State has informed Congress that it plans to establish an interim embassy in Honiara on the site of a former consular property.

It said it would at first be staffed by two American diplomats and five local employees at a cost of US$1.8 million a year.

A more permanent facility with larger staffing will be established eventually.

The US closed its embassy in Honiara in 1993 as part of a post-Cold War global reduction in diplomatic posts and priorities.

The State Department warned in February 2022 that China’s growing influence in the region made reopening the embassy in the Solomon Islands a priority.

In October 2020, the Solomons and China signed an agreement for China to help build venues for the Pacific Games.

Last year, Honiara and Beijing signed a security pact after Chinese President Xi Jinping upgraded relations for a second time following a meeting with Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare (right) with Li Ming, China's first ambassador to the Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (right) with Li Ming, China’s first ambassador to the Solomon Islands. Image: George Herming/Govt Comms Unit

The agreement could allow Solomon Islands to request China send police and military personnel if required, while China could deploy forces to protect “Chinese personnel and major projects”.

Solo the turtle Pacific Games mascot
Solo the turtle . . . the mascot for the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara. Image: Pacific Games

Sogavare has assured the US and other Western allies that he would not allow China to establish a naval base in his country, but concern about Chinese intentions has not eased.

Solomons and Chinese police visit Games stadium
Representatives from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force have met with Chinese officials and police to visit the 2023 Pacific Games stadium which is still under construction.

The stadium is being built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, while a dorm at the National University is being built by JiangSu Provincial Construction.

The police force acknowledged the work of the companies in providing employment opportunities to local residents.

Assistant Commissioner Simpson Pogeava said police assistance would be reaffirmed, instructing Central police and Guadalcanal police to provide security support to keep the projects safe.

  • The Games are scheduled to take place from November 19 to December 2.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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