By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Washington has officially initiated discussions with the Solomon Islands regarding its plan to open an embassy in Honiara amid growing anxiety over the Pacific island nation's security pact with China.
"Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke today with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele about plans to open the U.S. embassy in Honiara and our joint efforts to broaden and deepen engagement between our countries in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region," Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, said in a brief statement posted on the department's website.
Details of the discussion were not currently available.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken first announced the embassy opening in Honiara during his trip to Fiji on Feb.12 as part of Washington's aggressive engagement with the Pacific islands to counter China's growing influence in the region.
The U.S. shut down its embassy in the Solomon Islands in 1993.
In 2019, the Solomon Islands cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established relations with China.
There have been speculations -- which Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has denied -- that the Solomon Islands' security deal with China involves allowing Beijing to send its Navy warships and open a military base in the Pacific island nation.
During her separate discussion with Chris Seed, chief executive and secretary of New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sherman "conveyed her concern about recent developments in the Indo-Pacific and discussed opportunities to continue collaborating with partners and allies to advance peace and stability in the region," Price said.
The State Department has yet to confirm a report by the Financial Times that Kurt Campbell, National Security Council's coordinator for the Indo-Pacific affairs, was preparing for a trip to the Solomon Islands.