Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to embark on a diplomatic mission to Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia next week. This visit is a reflection of the Biden administration’s intensified efforts to counter China’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
The journey will commence on July 26 when Blinken dedicates the newly established U.S. Embassy in Nukuʻalofa, the capital of Tonga. Following that, he will proceed to Wellington, New Zealand, where he will have the pleasure of attending the highly anticipated women’s World Cup match between the United States and the Netherlands.
Over the course of his itinerary, Blinken will engage in crucial discussions with government officials in New Zealand. His visit will then culminate in Brisbane, Australia, where he will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other Australian counterparts on July 28-29.
This trip marks Blinken’s third visit to Asia in the past two months, building upon his recent interactions in China and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry have just concluded their own visits to China. Notably, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff is currently present in New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup and is expected to make a secondary trip to Samoa in the near future.
During an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum, Blinken lightheartedly expressed his love for soccer and even joked about potentially purchasing a scalped ticket to attend a World Cup match. This delightful anecdote reflects his lifelong passion for the sport, which was nurtured during his youth spent partly in France.
Stay tuned for more updates on Secretary Antony Blinken’s ventures in the Indo-Pacific region.
Boosting U.S. Presence in the Pacific Islands
The State Department has announced plans to significantly increase diplomatic personnel and funding for new U.S. embassies in the Pacific islands. This move comes as a response to China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
According to a report obtained by the Associated Press, China currently has permanent diplomatic facilities in eight out of the twelve Pacific island nations recognized by the United States. In order to catch up, the U.S. aims to strengthen its presence and influence in the region.
The State Department has informed Congress that it intends to hire up to 40 additional staffers for each of the four newly opened or upcoming embassies in the Pacific over the next five years. These embassies include Nuku’alofa, Honiara, Port Vila, and Tarawa.
The embassy in Nuku’alofa is already operational, while the one in Honiara opened its doors in January. The embassies in Port Vila and Tarawa are currently in the planning stages. Currently, there are only two temporary American staffers each in Honiara and Nuku’alofa.
To secure and establish these new embassies, the State Department plans to allocate a minimum of $10 million for start-up, design, and construction costs for each post.
This significant boost in U.S. presence underscores the importance of countering China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands.