The United States has opened a new Embassy in Tonga, the State Department said on Wednesday, part of efforts to step up the U.S diplomatic presence in the Pacific region to counter China.

The United States “officially opened the U.S Embassy in Nuku’alofa on 10 May 2023,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“This opening symbolises the renewal of our relationship and underlines the strength of our commitment to our bilateral relations, to the people of Tonga, and to our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tonga

Miller said the Embassy would allow Washington to deploy additional diplomatic personnel and resources, including the potential appointment of a resident Ambassador to Tonga, with which the United States has had diplomatic relations since 1972.

Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Antone Greubel presided over a ceremonial Flag raising to open the new United States Embassy to the Kingdom of Tonga.

Acting Foreign Minister, Samu Vaipulu attended and spoke on behalf of the government of Tonga, and Reverend Dr Taliai Niumeitolu delivered an opening prayer.

In his remarks DCM Greubel said, “This event symbolises the renewal of our relationship and underlines the strength of our commitment to our bilateral relationship and to the people of Tonga. Our partnership is rooted in shared values and close cooperation, ranging from combating the climate crisis to improving maritime security and enhancing our cooperation to advance economic and sustainable development. We are also looking forward to celebrating our Embassy opening on an even larger scale later this year.”

Today’s Embassy opening comes less than one year after Vice President Harris announced the United States would pursue discussions to establish an embassy in Tonga, and it is the beginning of a new chapter of U.S.-Tongan relations. This new embassy reflects the U.S. commitment to expand and deepen our cooperation with the Kingdom of Tonga in the years ahead and will enable us to more fully engage with our friends in Tonga and the broader region, connect U.S. programmes and resources with needs on the ground, to support frequent requests for more consular services in the region, and strengthen people-to-people ties.

Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tonga

Washington reopened its Embassy in the Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence, the top U.S diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said last week, and said Washington was continuing to engage with Vanuatu and Kiribati about opening proposed new embassies in those countries.

Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands announced in March it had awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.

The United States and regional allies Australia and New Zealand have had concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.

Photo: Ministry of Infrastructure Tonga

Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.

The Embassy announcement came after the White House said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden will become the first U.S sitting president to visit Papua New Guinea this month following the G7 summit in Japan, underscoring his administration’s investment in the Pacific region to counter China.