US to Open Embassy in Vanuatu in Latest Move to Counter Beijing Influence

Rebecca Zhu
By Rebecca Zhu
April 3, 2023Australia

The United States has announced its plan to open an embassy in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, its latest move to boost diplomatic relations in the region in response to Beijing’s growing influence.

“Consistent with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the U.S. Government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said in a press release.

“Establishing U.S. Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis.”

The United States currently maintains diplomatic relations with Vanuatu through its ambassador based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Vanuatu has a population of almost 320,000, spread across 13 principal islands and 70 other smaller islands.

NTD Photo
An aerial view of Erakor island and the coastline of Port Vila, Vanuatu, on Dec. 7, 2019. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The move comes as part of the Pacific Islands Embassies Act, finalized at the end of 2022, which aims to boost U.S. presence in the Pacific island region.

Under the legislation, embassies have also been set up in Kiribati and Tonga. In addition, its embassy in the Solomon Islands has been reopened as well.

The previous U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands was closed in 1993 following budget cuts and, like Vanuatu, was represented through its Papua New Guinea-based ambassador.

“The opening of the embassy builds on our efforts not only to place more diplomatic personnel throughout the region but also to engage further with our Pacific neighbors, connect United States programs and resources with needs on the ground, and build people-to-people ties,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Feb. 1.

Huge Indo-Pacific Push

Other moves in the Pacific region include signing a memorandum of understanding with the Federated States of Micronesia and pledging at least $7 billion in funding for the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia.

These three nations are called the “Freely Associated States” (FAS), whose citizens are eligible to work and live indefinitely in the United States.

It also allows the island nations access to U.S. domestic economic programs and allows the United States to operate defense bases in these nations. FAS citizens are also allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

FAS countries have complained that assistance has not kept pace with U.S. obligations. Though they still enjoy close ties to Washington, critics warn that a failure to reach new terms could spur them to look to China’s communist regime for funding or increased trade and tourism.

The United States Institute of Peace, a federally funded think tank, said in a September 2022 report that Beijing perceives the United States “limited” engagement as a strategic void in the Pacific Island region and has been open about its intentions to fill it.

“Even a modest increase in diplomatic resources is likely to meet with an enthusiastic reception from regional officials,” stated the report.

The Chinese communist regime has been successful in getting most Pacific Island nations to switch diplomatic affiliation from Taipei to Beijing, the most recent being the Solomons and Kiribati in 2019.

Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu are the four remaining Pacific Nations that maintain official diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

NTD Photo
David Panuelo of Federated States of Micronesia speaks during the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 18, 2013. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Micronesia’s outgoing leader has proposed his nation switch ties from Beijing to Taiwan, accusing the Chinese regime of waging “political warfare” and making “direct threats” to his safety.

In a leaked 13-page letter to the Micronesian Congress, President David Panuelo claimed that Chinese officials acting in an official capacity had made direct threats against his safety.

Additionally, he alleged that Beijing was attempting to undermine Micronesia’s sovereignty to ensure it would either side with Beijing or remain neutral in a potential conflict over Taiwan, a self-governed nation.

“One of the reasons that China’s political warfare is successful in so many arenas is that we are bribed to be complicit and bribed to be silent. That’s a heavy word, but it is an accurate description regardless,” Panuelo said.

“It is at this point that I relay, simply as a point of information, that 39 out of 50 members of parliament in the Solomon Islands received payments from China prior to their vote on postponing elections that were otherwise scheduled for this year.”

Shift From China to Allies

The Biden administration has indicated that it has switched its focus from communicating with Beijing to working closely with allies.

Kurt Campbell, the national security council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, said the United States recognized that the “most important step” was how it could work with allies and partners.

“The idea here is not to in any way challenge China, or surround China, but to protect our interests and to make sure that through common effort we are able to stabilize and strengthen the elements of this system which we think have benefited all,” he said on March 30.

The shift comes after the long-standing foreign policy theory that communicating directly with Beijing would create change throughout Asia has been proven wrong.

Campbell said efforts to convince the Chinese regime to adopt more liberal and less authoritarian policies have failed.

“[The new theory] believes that the more effective framework was to work with allies and partners to create a larger context for then engaging China more directly,” Campbell said.

“That’s what President Biden has sought to do. To work on it with our existing bilateral engagements but also with new partners.”

Aldgra Fredly contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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