WASHINGTON (Reuters) — White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said Thursday he expects to see more U.S. cabinet-level officials visit Pacific island nations as the United States steps up its engagement in the region. to counter China.

Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, Campbell said the United States needs more diplomatic facilities in the region and more contact with Pacific island nations that sometimes “receive less attention”.

“And I think you will see more senior cabinet-level officials going to the Pacific as we move forward. So, again, direct engagement – ​​recognizing that nothing replaces, really, diplomatic boots on the ground,” Campbell said.

President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to commit more resources to the Indo-Pacific as China has strengthened economic, military and police ties with strategically important Pacific island nations that are hungry for foreign investment. .

Beijing’s growing influence has been highlighted by its security pact with the Solomon Islands this year, a move that has stoked concerns in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

“Sovereignty is central to how we see the Pacific as a whole. Any move that compromises or challenges that sovereignty, I think we would have concerns,” Campbell said, without referring to China.

Washington has said it will expedite the opening of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, announced earlier this year when Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji, the first trip there by America’s top diplomat in four decades.

Campbell said he envisions Fiji as one of the “hubs” of US engagement.

“I just want to emphasize that our mantra will be nothing in the Pacific without the Pacific,” Campbell said, acknowledging perceptions that the United States had not always sufficiently considered the needs of islanders in the past.

“We don’t take these obligations for granted,” Campbell said.

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