During the recently concluded Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji, the establishment of new US missions in Kiribati and Tonga was mentioned by US Vice President Kamala Harris. However, it has since emerged that a bipartisan group of senators is planning to include Vanuatu in legislation on the establishment of new embassies in the Pacific Islands region.
The “Pacific Islands Embassy Act”, sponsored by Senators Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) is explicit in its identification of Vanuatu alongside Kiribati and Tonga as the site of a new Pacific mission. Currently Vanuatu is served by a Papua New Guinea-based Ambassador.
It is clear that the US is seeking to beef up its diplomatic reach in the Pacific – but given the scale of Beijing’s Embassy in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila (rumoured to have 100 staff), the US has some ground to make up.
“Strong US diplomacy in the Pacific is essential. We must immediately establish a robust physical diplomatic presence in these strategic island nations,” Ossoff said in a statement.
The timeline for the establishment of a new embassy in Port Vila is subject to the passage of the Act and its adoption into US law, and even then, there is a two-year establishment window.
For Ni-Vanuatu, having a US Embassy in Port Vila will be welcomed if for no other reason than the convenience of applying for US visas – which may also attract Vanuatu Citizens under the Development Support Program (DSP) – to visit Vanuatu in order to submit application
However it could also spur further economic activity, and present new opportunities for Vanuatu in trade with the US – where Kava, the Pacific Islands traditional beverage – has been gaining a foothold via a growing number of “Kava Bars”. Vanuatu is recognised as the producer of some of the most high-quality Kava in the world and is eager to develop its export markets.