US opens embassy in Tonga to counter China’s influence in the Pacific
Sydney, Australia, May 10 (EFE).- The United States on Wednesday opened an embassy in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, as part of its diplomatic strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the strategic Pacific region.
“This opening symbolizes the renewal of our relationship and underlines the strength of our commitment to our bilateral relations, to the people of Tonga, and to our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region,” the US Department of State Department said in a statement on Tuesday, US time.
In a video address to the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji in July 2022, US Vice President Kamala Harris had announced that her country would open new embassies in Tonga and Kirbati and triple aid to the region.
“We value our shared history with Tonga, with relationships dating back to 1886 and the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972,” the statement added.
, referring to the remote island nation of 105,000 people.
Tonga – a remote island nation of 105,000 inhabitants that was hit in January 2022 by a tsunami triggered by an undersea volcano, which caused significant damage to its infrastructure and left three dead – has an external debt of $195 million, almost 36 percent of its GDP.
Two-thirds of its debt is owed to China’s Export-Import Bank, according to its budget.
In early February, the US reopened its embassy in Solomon Islands – a South Pacific nation – after a 30-year absence.
The once overlooked Pacific region, which is calling for more action on climate change as it is especially vulnerable to it, gained geopolitical prominence after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April 2022.
The pact – which allows China to send armed police to the island country at Honiara’s request, as Australia and New Zealand do – raised fears that China would also establish naval bases in the Solomons – which both countries’ governments have denied – and that Beijing’s growing influence in the region would hurt island nations that have alliances with Taiwan.
In mid-2022, then Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured the Pacific to seal a regional trade and security pact with ten Pacific nations, including Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, but failed to close the agreement. EFE