The US announced Tuesday that it will be expanding its diplomatic presence in the Pacific and increasing aid to the region as part of its strategy to counter Chinese influence.
Vice President Kamala Harris detailed the plan in a virtual address to the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), which is being held in Fiji. Harris said the US will be starting the process to open embassies in the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Kiribati.
She said the US will appoint its first-ever envoy to the PIF, and that the US Agency for International Development will expand its presence in the region. The US will also be tripling the amount of aid it gives to Pacific Island nations. Harris said the Biden administration will ask Congress to boost Pacific island aid from $21 million per year to $60 million.
Harris didn’t mention China by name but referred to “bad actors” that were challenging the so-called “rules-based order,” which means the US-led order that Washington accuses Beijing of challenging.
The Biden administration recently released its Indo-Pacific Strategy that calls for the US to “meaningfully expand” its diplomatic presence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. The strategy also calls for the US to increase military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with a focus on building alliances.
Harris’ announcement came after the Solomon Islands angered the West by signing a pact with China to boost security ties. The Solomons have insisted the deal doesn’t allow China to build a military base, but the Pacific island nation has still come under an enormous amount of pressure from the US and Australia over the deal. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare likened the Western pressure to being threatened with an invasion.