The U.S. dedicates a new embassy in Tonga in a bid for more influence in the Pacific

The U.S. has opened a new embassy in Tonga as part of efforts to increase its influence in the Pacific region amid tensions with China.

The visit: Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Tonga, marking his third tour of the Pacific islands since taking office.
* He participated in the dedication ceremony of a new U.S. Embassy in the capital, Nuku’alofa.
* The visit also celebrated the return of Peace Corps volunteers after their departure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
* This visit aligns with the U.S.’s strategy of expanding diplomatic posts across the Pacific region.

The context: Blinken’s trip comes amidst growing competition between the U.S. and China for influence in the Pacific.
* Last year, the Solomon Islands switched allegiance from Taiwan to China, triggering anxiety among Western powers about Beijing’s potential military expansion in the region.
* In response, the U.S. has taken multiple diplomatic measures, including renewing free association compacts with Micronesia and Palau, and signing a defense agreement with Papua New Guinea.

China’s influence: Tonga, a nation dependent on remittances and external aid, is severely indebted to China.
* The country’s external debt stands at about $186 million, with almost two-thirds owed to China.
* Blinken expressed concerns over China’s “increasingly problematic behavior,” including unlawful maritime claims, militarization of disputed regions, and potentially corrupt investments.

What’s next: Blinken’s schedule includes additional stops in New Zealand and Australia.
* In Australia, he will meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss defense strategies with their Australian counterparts.
* Blinken’s visit is part of the U.S’s broader initiative to demonstrate commitment to Pacific nations beyond the geopolitical competition with China.

View original article on NPR

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