A senior US official in the Solomon Islands on Sunday warned Pacific countries against the temptations of authoritarian regimes as China expands its influence in a region of great importance to Washington and its allies.
Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is visiting the Solomon Islands to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major ground offensive by the United States and its allies against Japan in 1942 that marked a turning point in the Pacific War. In this seven-month campaign (1942-1943), tens of thousands of soldiers, most of them Japanese, were killed. Sherman’s father was a Marine who was seriously injured during it. Without naming any country, Sherman warned against leaders who try to revive “corrupt” ideas about the use of force and believe that “coercion, pressure, and violence are tools that can be used with impunity.” “Some in the world” have forgotten the cost of the war or are ignoring the lessons of the past, she said during a visit to a memorial in the Solomon Islands. Comparing the current situation to the Allied struggle against Nazism and the Empire of Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, American diplomacy urged Pacific nations to resist tyranny. “We remember how rotten and empty those ideas were and how they remain so today,” she said. “Today we are once again engaged in a different kind of battle, a battle that will continue for the time being,” she added.
- enhance cooperation
Sherman’s visit to the Solomon Islands comes as the United States seeks to reclaim its position in a region where China is increasingly active diplomatically.
The Solomon Islands government recently signed a vague security agreement with Beijing as it tries to curb press freedom and is considering postponing the elections. “It’s up to us to decide if we want to continue building societies where people are free to express their opinions… and if we want governments that are transparent and accountable to their people,” Sherman told her hosts. In addition to these warnings, Sherman said Washington wants to enhance “very basic” cooperation with the Pacific islands, notably by opening embassies in Tonga, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. As part of this drive to woo the Pacific islands, US President Joe Biden will host leaders of these countries at the White House for a summit in September.
During a visit to Polynesian Tonga Saturday, Sherman announced that Pacific Island leaders will be invited to Washington for a meeting and dinner late next month. She spoke of a “historic opportunity” for dialogue. Solomon Islands Minister of Police and Security Anthony Vicki welcomed what he called the “recommitment” of the United States in his country and in the region. But he called on the United States to launch “intense efforts” to remove unexploded ordnance from World War II that still harm and kill residents of the Solomon Islands today. The United States announced this year its intention to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, nearly 30 years after the closure of its diplomatic mission in the Pacific country.
- calm tensions
Sherman’s visit comes as China continues to demonstrate its growing power in the Asia-Pacific region, carrying out military exercises around Taiwan in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island. The Solomon Islands cut ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in order to maintain diplomatic relations with China, a shift that opened room for increased investment but sparked competition between the islands. China is funding the construction of a sports complex whose value is reported to be $53 million in the Solomon Islands. In November, protests against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavarre’s rule turned into riots in Honiara, with much of the city’s Chinatown burned before Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to help restore calm. The opposition accuses the prime minister of undermining democracy. For his part, he reiterated his government’s intention to postpone the general elections from next April until after the Pacific Games hosted by the Solomon Islands in November 2023. The Solomon Islands president also faced sharp criticism for attacking the country’s public broadcaster, which he accused during the week It is being published “lies and misleading information”, saying that it has neglected its duty to “exercise a fair, responsible and ethical journalism”. (AFP)
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