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Latest US Pacific move

United States senators are aiming to introduce legislation to establish three new embassies in the Pacific and are seeking US$40.2 million to do so.

Much of this has to do with the intent to strengthen America’s relationships in the Pacific and fend off China’s growing influence.

The “Pacific Islands Embassy Act,” co-led by Senators Jon Ossoff and Todd Young would establish new US missions in Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga.

America has one ambassador in the Pacific who is based in Fiji and concurrently serves as the representative to Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, while the ambassador to Papua New Guinea is also accredited to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The goal of the bill is to have more US diplomats directly engage more Pacific Islands’ governments thus closing the gap between Beijing’s presence and America’s.

“Strong U.S. diplomacy in the Pacific is essential. We must immediately establish a robust physical diplomatic presence in these strategic island nations,” Ossoff said in a statement.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert (fourth from left) at the Pacific Forum Secretariat. Picture: US Embassy Suva

“Frankly, it is malpractice that the United States didn’t take this step a decade and a half ago. Time is of the essence.”

The measure, co-sponsored by Senators Marsha Blackburn, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono requires the secretary of state to inaugurate the missions no later than two years after the bill is signed into law.

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The top diplomat must also by that time recommend to the president who should serve as ambassadors in those embassies.

However, the bill allows for a one-year delay of the requirements if the President determines and reports to Congress in advance that such waiver is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert with Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayewd-Khaiyum. Picture: US Embassy Suva

The act authorises US$40.2 million in 2023 to construct the embassies and a further US$3 million in 2024 to maintain the buildings.

The future of the bill is unclear however it seems that both sides of the senate are agreeing to push for this as there are concerns regarding China and the Pacific.

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