Pacific News Minute: US proposes building embassies to counter China's bid for influence
Vice President Kamala Harris says the United States will continue to pay more diplomatic attention to Pacific Island nations. Harris made the comment directly to regional leaders last week — giving a virtual address to the Pacific Islands Forum while China competes for more influence in the Indo-Pacific.
The vice president has proposed new embassies in Tonga and in Kiribati, a Micronesian state that split last week from the 18-nation forum in a major blow to regional harmony.
Both Kiribati and the Solomon Islands recently shifted their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing.
Harris also says the administration will ask Congress to triple funding for fisheries assistance to $60 million a year and the appointment of the first U.S. envoy to the forum.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare used the meeting to strongly deny that his country would allow China to build a military base in the South Pacific nation.
In April, the prime minister agreed to have Beijing provide security support in the Solomons. The deal has raised fears of a permanent Chinese military base within 1,200 miles of the northeast Australian coast.
Sogavare told reporters, “There is no military base in the agreement. And that’s a very important point that we continue to reiterate to the family in the region.”
The Guardian reports two Chinese embassy defense attaches who were watching Harris’ address from media seating were spotted by a journalist and reported to police. Police asked them to leave.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the pair broke no rules by watching Harris’ speech.