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Blinken to visit Tonga, New Zealand and Australia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will open a new embassy in Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will open a new embassy in Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa. Photo: AAP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Tonga, New Zealand and Australia next week as the administration of US President Joe Biden shifts its Pacific strategy into overdrive in part to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

The US State Department said on Thursday (local time) that Mr Blinken will dedicate a new US embassy in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa on July 26 before heading to Wellington, New Zealand.

There he will attend the women’s football World Cup match between the US and the Netherlands.

Mr Blinken will meet New Zealand officials and move on to Brisbane for further meetings with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Australian counterparts on July 28-29.

The trip will follow Mr Blinken’s visit to China in June and a trip to Indonesia for talks with South-East Asian officials just last week.

And, it comes as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry have recently wrapped up their own trips to China.

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff (husband of US Vice-President Kamala Harris) is in New Zealand for the FIFA World Cup and will make a side trip to Samoa in coming days.

Mr Blinken’s travel was announced a week after the US State Department notified Congress that it plans a massive increase in diplomatic personnel and spending for facilities at US embassies in the Pacific islands.

The boost in the US presence in the Pacific is in response to China’s increasing assertiveness there.

The update to Congress, which was obtained by the Associated Press, pointed out that China has permanent diplomatic facilities in eight of the 12 Pacific island countries that the US recognises and said the US needed to catch up.

The department told lawmakers that it envisioned hiring up to 40 staffers in the next five years for each of four recently opened or soon-to-be-opened embassies in the Pacific.

Those include the embassy in Nuku’alofa, one in Honiara, Solomon Islands, that opened in January; and planned embassies in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and in Tarawa, Kiribati.

Currently there are only two temporary US staffers each in Honiara and Nuku’alofa.

At each of those posts, the department said it would spend at least $US10 million ($15 million) for start-up, design and construction costs.

-AAP

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