US opens embassy in Tonga, seeking to curb China’s South Pacific reach

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The United States said it has opened an embassy in the Kingdom of Tonga, as it jostles with China's growing clout in the South Pacific.

Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago of about 100,000 people, is the latest in a string of Pacific island states targeted in a renewed US diplomatic push into the region.

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The new embassy in the capital Nuku'alofa was officially opened Tuesday, the US State Department said in a statement, with more diplomatic staff to follow.

"This opening symbolizes the renewal of our relationship and underlines the strength of our bilateral relations, to the people of Tonga, and to our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region," it said.

The State Department tipped the "potential appointment" of a resident US ambassador to Tonga.

The United States also has plans to open embassies in Vanuatu and Kiribati, and in February it restored its embassy in Solomon Islands after a 30-year hiatus.

The United States has been the dominant military force in the South Pacific since World War II.

But the region is increasingly the arena for powers to compete for commercial, political and military influence.

China, the rising military power in the region, has also asserted itself through its expanding diplomatic reach, investment, police training, and security deals.

The United States and its allies were taken by surprise when China reached a secretive security pact last year with Solomon Islands.

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

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