Pacific Islands solidarity is a Biden priority, U.S. diplomat tells Solomons

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman attends a panel with the Friends of Europe, in Brussels

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden sees strong ties with Pacific Island countries as a priority, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in the Solomon Islands on Sunday, underscoring the stakes of her visit as tensions have been mounting in the region.

At a World War Two memorial event in the Solomons' capital, Honiara, Sherman rebuked governments that she said sought to dismantle the rules-based international order. She did not specify which governments she was criticizing but tensions in the region has been mounting between U.S. allies and China.

The Solomons surprised their neighbour Australia, and the United States, this year by striking a security pact with China.

"President Biden has made solidarity with the Pacific Islands a priority for his entire administration from the very beginning," Sherman said at the event, also attended by top diplomats from Australia and New Zealand.

"We have built profound and enduring ties with each other, as one Pacific family."

Sherman referred to her father, a U.S. Marine who was wounded in the World War Two Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

"Some around the world ... seem to have forgotten the awful lessons learned here," she said.

She called out "leaders who believe that others must be diminished if they are to rise (and) believe that coercion, pressure, and violence are tools to be used with impunity".

Those leaders, who she did not name, appeared to "believe that the principles and institutions the world set up after the Second World War, the rules-based international order ... can be ignored and undermined, diminished and destroyed".

At the event, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, whose father, President John F. Kennedy, also served in the Solomons, said that "countless Americans and allied families have Solomon Islanders to thank for their survival".

Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, referred to an agreement with the police in the Solomons to dispose of unexploded ordnance from World War Two, saying it was "ultimately about supporting (the police) to ensure the safety of Solomon Islands people".

Sherman's tour is ostensibly timed to commemorate important battles in World War Two, but several senior U.S. officials have visited the region this year as geostrategic competition has increased.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Samoa and Tonga in May, followed by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in early June.

The United States has said it wants to open embassies in the Solomons, Kirabati and Tonga, where Sherman visited the day before.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by David Gregorio and Gerry Doyle)

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