By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
In its latest move to boost its presence and counter China's influence in the Pacific island region, Washington today announced plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu.
"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,"the U.S. State Department said.
The U.S. currently maintains diplomatic relations with the government of Vanuatu but does not have an embassy in the South Pacific nation. The charge d’affaires ad interim in Port Moresby is accredited to Vanuatu and regularly travels to Vanuatu.
"Establishing U.S. Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis," the department said.
Vanuatu, which is made up of roughly 80 islands that stretch 1,300 kilometers, is one of the island nations in the region that have diplomatic relations with China.
Washington also announced plans to open embassies in Kiribati and Tonga. The U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands opened in February.
While the U.S. began renewing its engagement in the Pacific region in recent years, the reopening of its embassy in Honiara was driven by anxiety over the Solomon Islands' security agreement with China last year.
The U.S. is also seeking to strengthen its relationship with the Cook Islands, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum.
On Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman met in Washington with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.
"The two discussed deepening the bilateral relationship between the United States and Cook Islands as well as Cook Islands’ role as Pacific Island Forum chairman," said Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson for the State Department.
"They also exchanged ideas on how the United States and other partners can best engage with the PIF through Partners in the Blue Pacific to advance the Pacific Island Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. The deputy secretary noted that AUKUS adheres to the highest nonproliferation standards," Patel said.