Biden Opened Embassy in Tonga Amid Rising Chinese Influence

The White House made a diplomatic move over rising Chinese influence in the Pacific region, and opened an embassy in Tonga.

US Opened Embassy in Tonga Amid Rising Chinese Influence

By rising Chinese influence in the Pacific region, the White House made a diplomatic move on Tuesday and opened an embassy in Tonga, a Pacific Island nation. The statement to open the embassy came the same day after American President Mr. Biden planned a visit to the Indo-Pacific region for later this month. During his visit, he will go to Papua New Guinea. It will be the first visit by any acting American President to the Pacific country.

Kamala Harris, American Vice President, talked to a Pacific Islands Forum last year and announced the intentions of the Biden administration to open embassies in Kiribati and Tonga. Washington stated at that time that those actions were part of the ongoing efforts of the Biden-Harris leadership to enhance the collaboration between the US and the Pacific Islands and encourage regionalism in the Pacific. Spokesperson to the White House State Department, Matthew Miller, described that the opening of the Tonga Embassy illustrates the re-strengthening of American relations with the People of Tonga and the Indo-Pacific region.

Furthermore, the opening of the US embassy in Tonga is the second one America has opened in the Indo-pacific region this year, after reopening first in the Solomon Islands in February. In March, State Department stated White House also has plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu.

According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, Tonga is a country made up of 171 islands located in the South Pacific, roughly two-thirds of the distance between Hawaii and New Zealand. Out of all the islands in Tonga, only 45 are currently populated. Most of the population, around 105,000 people, resides on the main island of Tongatapu – roughly two-thirds of the total population. Although the country is deemed one of the wealthiest Pacific island nations, a significant portion of its wealth is derived from remittances sent by its overseas diaspora. The CIA has also observed a noteworthy increase in Chinese infrastructure investments in the country. The Biden administration aims to counter the influence of Beijing by establishing embassies in Nuku’alofa and other Pacific island nations.

US Opened Embassy in Tonga Amid Rising Chinese Influence
US Opened Embassy in Tonga Amid Rising Chinese Influence
Source: Web

Why is Washington interested in Tonga islands?

Last year, the White House released the inaugural US national strategy for the Pacific islands. This extensive plan involves a more significant diplomatic presence and expanded deployment of the US Coast Guard and military to the region. The project also has initiatives to address the impact of climate change and a focus on improving infrastructure and education. Washington is concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in the South Pacific, as Washington considers the islands as a crucial connection between Guam and Australia. The US fears that China’s purpose of its agenda in the area could become more aggressive and lead to the installation of a military presence.

Karine Jean-Pierre, Press Secretary to the White House, said Biden would visit Papua New Guinea during his trip to Japan and Australia. She stressed the importance of the partnership between the US and Pacific Island countries. Analysts say the Pacific island nations hold considerable military significance for the US and their partner, Australia. An international defense researcher, Timothy Heath, said last year that islands are located in a crucial passage used by naval and merchant ships from America and Australia.

Heath expressed that if China were to make solid military relations with Tonga, Beijing could deploy its warships temporarily to the islands. He said if China succeeded in weapon and ship deployment, it could cause threats to the ships on US-Australian passage. Even the minor military presence of Beijing in Tonga would help gather sensitive intelligence information relating to American and Australian army operations.