US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has met with leaders in Samoa and Tonga to discuss climate change, ocean security and opportunities to work together as Washington seeks to re-engage with the region amid concerns about growing Chinese influence.
The senior US diplomat’s visit is part of a multi-leg trip to Pacific nations.
Sherman was in the region to listen and learn, she told a news conference after what she described as a productive meeting with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.
“Our two countries share a commitment to important democratic values, including respect for human rights, a commitment to protecting freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, and a strong belief in the importance of a free and open press,” Sherman said.
“I look forward to our continued friendship.”
Several senior US diplomats have visited the South Pacific this year as geo-strategic competition in the region grows.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took a trip to Samoa and Tonga in May, followed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong in early June.
Sherman confirmed Pacific leaders had been invited to visit President Joe Biden at the White House in September, although a date has not yet been confirmed.
Samoa’s prime minister expressed appreciation for the US shift in its stance on climate change and its involvement in ocean governance.
She said Samoa was excited to explore opportunities to work with the United States.
In Tonga, Sherman met with Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Siaosi Sovaleni, as well as Tonga’s King Tupou VI.
Talks marked 50 years of bilateral relations and discussions around establishing a US embassy.
They also discussed expanding co-operation in public health, combating climate change, and regional security issues, the US state department said.
Sherman’s Pacific tour is scheduled to include World War II commemorations in the Solomon Islands as well as visits to Australia and New Zealand.
She will arrive in Canberra on Monday for talks with Foreign Minister Penny Wong and other officials.