WASHINGTON, April 1 — The United States said yesterday it planned to open an embassy in Vanuatu, its latest effort to beef up its presence in the South Pacific where China has been seeking to expand its clout.

An embassy in the capital Port Vila “would allow the US government to deepen relationships” in the archipelago and to step up development assistance including on climate, a State Department statement said.

President Joe Biden’s administration, with bipartisan support from Congress, has been expanding the US role in an area that once received limited attention after a shock last year when China reached a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

Despite denials from the Solomon Islands, US and Australian officials have voiced fear that the pact could open vast waters to China’s military.

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The United States in February opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands and Vice President Kamala Harris announced at a summit last year that the United States would also open new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga.

The State Department did not give a timeline for the Vanuatu embassy.

The United States established relations with Vanuatu in 1986 — six years after it became independent following unusual shared rule of Britain and France — but has maintained relations through the US embassy in Papua New Guinea.

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With a population of just over 300,000 people, Vanuatu is especially susceptible to natural disasters including cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic activity.

The low-lying nation also fears that rising water levels from climate change will jeopardise its future and led a landmark resolution adopted Wednesday by the UN General Assembly that called on the International Court of Justice to spell out legal obligations for historic emitters. — AFP