The United States seeks to return to Pacific island countries as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the reopening of the US Embassy in the Solomon Islands after 29 years, bringing the South Pacific nation back to the center of politics international, as it is still recovering from the widespread riots of November 2021.

Almost every major media outlet has, in fact, used the phrase “a move to counter China” in their headlines to describe the US move. Along with the absence of the United States in the region, there are the country’s tireless efforts to smear China’s efforts to maintain cooperation with Pacific island countries.

In recent decades, the United States paid little attention to Pacific island nations because it believed that when it came to geopolitical contests, these countries would be of no help, observers said. But now US attempts to woo the Pacific Islands serve their regional interests and clash with China.

“The United States never seeks to maintain strategic stability with other large nations to safeguard global security, but instead focuses on manipulating a handful of smaller nations…this will ultimately harm the United States and to other nations,” experts said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L center) attends a meeting with Fijian Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (R center) in Nadi, Fiji on February 12, 2022. Photo: VCG

Long-term absence

But the goal of the US return can hardly sway island nations because of the great power’s long-standing ignorance of the region over the past few decades.

“The explicit purpose of this increased engagement is to counter China’s challenges to American preeminence in the Pacific and beyond. In my view, this is problematic because it is driven by security concerns that are not necessarily shared by island leaders, who see climate change, not China, as the main threat to the future of the Pacific,” said Frank Sade Bilaupaine, Policy Consultant at the Solomon Islands Government’s Foreign Policy Advisory Secretariat, on its social media platform.

“They are really trying to undermine the interests of the Solomon Islands. They destroyed Africa and the Middle East with the same game and export it here? commented Alfred Sasako, editor of the Island Sun newspaper.

“As far as I know, the United States doesn’t have much of an existence with the Solomon Islands. I feel like there’s only been a report on the states donating vaccines States in 2021, or on US collusion with Malaita,” a Chinese businessman told Solomon Island to the Global Times.

The November 2021 riots that swept through Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, are believed to truly reflect the extent of the influence of the United States and the island of Taiwan over the region, considering the nation’s history islander as a geopolitical pawn.

A man walks past ruins on November 28, 2021 after days of rioting in Honiara, Solomon Islands.  Photo: AFP

A man walks past ruins on November 28, 2021 after days of rioting in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Photo: AFP

Besides closing the US Embassy on the island 29 years ago, Blinken’s own trip to Fiji was the first visit by a US Secretary of State to Fiji in 37 years, since 1985. During this period, more than 20 Chinese leaders and senior government officials above the rank of foreign minister visited Fiji. Today, China is the second largest trading partner of Pacific island nations.

In terms of climate response, officials from Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and other countries have previously said that the United States is not competent enough to deal with the growing threat of climate change and has therefore turned to the China for help.

The main strategy of the United States and its euphemistically dubbed Five Eyes Alliance cohorts toward small Pacific island nations had been “ignorance,” said Yang Honglian, a senior expert on South Pacific countries based in Fiji, in Global Times, told the Global Times on Saturday.

“Take the example of Fiji. The United States wanted them to be self-sufficient, but would also like to take advantage of the islands to support the West on issues such as climate change or human rights,” Yang said. .

According to Yang, after the Fijian coup in December 2006, the United States and Australia quickly took the decision to impose sanctions against the island nation, which prompted Fiji to strengthen its ties with the countries. from East Asia, including China.

As Fiji-China relations developed rapidly, the United States and Australia realized the West’s “power vacuum” in the region and began to distort the situation, Yang noted.

A US congressional bill in September 2021 proposed that the US government spend up to $1 billion a year in 14 Pacific island countries on a long list of topics, from “democratic governance” to climate change resilience .

But experts pointed out that some of the proposed projects, such as those aimed at improving transportation and electricity supply, do not have the comparative advantage of the United States, but “imitate the Chinese initiative “the Belt and the road”.

“The United States is strengthening its ties with the Pacific island nations with very strong motivation to maintain its hegemony,” Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of Foreign Affairs of China, told the Global Times on Sunday. China. “These island nations are playing an increasingly important role in the geopolitical competition between the United States and China, as well as in building the Pacific Ocean and even the global maritime order. So the United States has started to increase their focus and investment in these Pacific Island nations.”

“Our Backyard”

“It’s our backyard, not China’s,” wrote an op-ed about the Australian by ASPI senior researcher Anthony Bergin. “Australia and the United States must respond to both development challenges and geostrategic competition in the Pacific Islands. We cannot afford the luxury of choice,” he said.

“The media that advocates cooperation with the West is the mainstream, with a large number of supporters,” said a Chinese media worker who spoke on condition of anonymity in Fiji. “Rough calculations would tell you that anti-China reports are taking over. Out of 100 China-related reports, only about 30 have positive content.”

“Some local media are preaching the ‘China threat theory’ or the debt trap, which are groundless,” Yang said. “China has really helped local island countries improve people’s livelihoods by building hospitals, hydropower plants or sports venues,” he noted.

Moreover, some elites in countries like Kiribati, Palau and Nauru have also realized the reality: “If it weren’t for the influence of China, the United States wouldn’t pay much attention to them. They would therefore prefer not to choose a side”. Yang said.

In response to Blinken’s speech, the Chinese Embassy in the Solomon Islands said in a February 13 statement that “since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands, the development of bilateral relations has achieved fruitful results. , bringing tangible benefits to the two peoples and in line with the common interests of all countries in the region”. “It is hoped that some countries will abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality and do more practical things that promote the stability and development of island countries,” it read.

To help the Solomon Islands deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, on February 18, a Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport plane arrived in Honiara, the country’s capital, loaded with anti -epidemic donated by China, including 320,000 test reagents, 20 oxygen generators, 20 oximeters, 180,000 pairs of gloves, 20,000 goggles, 10,000 protective suits, 100 folding beds and 70 tents, weighing more than 20 tons .

A Chinese PLA Air Force Y-20 transport plane carrying medical supplies arrives in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, on February 18.  Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in the Solomon Islands

A Chinese PLA Air Force Y-20 transport plane carrying medical supplies arrives in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, on February 18. Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in the Solomon Islands