US Vice President Harris to join Pacific Islands meeting in bid to counter China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will participate in the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting on Tuesday, a senior administration official said, as Washington steps up its commitment to counter China in the region. .

He will announce new steps, including the establishment of new US embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, the appointment of the first US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, and the return of the Peace Corps to the region.

He will also establish a regional United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Fiji and announce a new request to Congress for economic assistance to the Pacific Islands that is nearly triple current levels.

“In short, the vice president will announce that we are stepping up our game in the Pacific Islands,” the senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters. “This new chapter … will feature a stronger diplomatic presence on the ground throughout the region,” the official said.

The Biden administration has promised to commit more resources to the Indo-Pacific as China seeks to boost economic, military and law enforcement ties with Pacific island nations hungry for foreign investment.

Beijing’s growing influence was highlighted by its security pact with the Solomon Islands this year, a move that has fueled concerns in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

“We’re not asking countries to choose … we’re focusing on our own commitment,” the administration official said, when asked about the competition with China.

Washington has said it will speed up the opening of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, announced earlier this year when Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji, the first trip there by the top US diplomat in four decades.

Tensions between China and the United States, and the withdrawal of the remote Pacific island nation of Kiribati, have overshadowed the Pacific Islands Forum as the leaders arrived in Fiji on Monday.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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