Blinken Accuses China of Militarizing the South China Sea and Employing Economic Coercion.

China is asserting its influence in the Pacific region. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over China’s ‘troubling conduct’ during his visit to the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Wednesday, July 26, highlighting Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea and what he referred to as economic coercion. This was reported by Reuters.

China’s expanding presence in the region, which included a security pact with the Solomon Islands last year, has prompted worries among the United States and Australia about Beijing’s intentions.

Blinken emphasized in a press briefing that the U.S. does not oppose China’s engagement with the region, but they are wary of ensuring transparency and sustainable financing in its investments.

“As China’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific region has grown, we have observed increasingly concerning behavior from our perspective,” he stated.

Previously, Blinken engaged in discussions with Tonga’s Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni about the strategic significance of the Pacific region ahead of his upcoming visits to Australia and New Zealand, the two largest countries in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ dedication to both Tonga and all Pacific islands. This visit marks yet another occasion of a prominent U.S. official visiting the region, following President Joe Biden’s historic summit with Pacific island leaders in Washington in September last year. A second summit is scheduled for later this year.

Over the past years, China has been actively financing infrastructure projects and enhancing its diplomatic influence in the region. Last year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a tour of the Pacific region.

In response, Western nations have significantly intensified their involvement and funding to counter this trend.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit Papua New Guinea this week, followed by a trip to Australia, where the largest Australian-American military exercises will commence. Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron is also present in the region, visiting French territories and countries like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

One of the major concerns for Western nations is the mounting debt levels in the region. Tonga, for instance, holds a substantial debt to Beijing, raising questions about its ability to repay considering its relatively small population of just over one hundred thousand people.

Sovaleni assured that his country has already begun repayment of the debt this year and expressed confidence in Tonga’s relations with China, focusing primarily on developmental initiatives, especially in infrastructure.

Later on Wednesday, Blinken will officially inaugurate the new U.S. embassy in the capital, Nuku’alofa, before heading to Wellington, New Zealand.

Recent reports indicate that the United States is actively pursuing enhanced interactions with nations in the Pacific region, aiming to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the area.

Joseph Yun, a prominent figure in President Joe Biden’s administration responsible for Pacific islands, emphasized the urgency of catching up for past inattention to this historically pro-American region. He underscored that China’s efforts to extend its reach necessitate swift and decisive action from the United States.