The U.S. Embassy in Canberra said that it had received a formal notification from the Government of the Solomon Islands that said it was suspending all US naval visits pending updates in protocol procedures.
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All naval visits have been put on hold by the Solomon Islands until further notice as a result of an earlier incident on August 23 in which the Oliver Henry of the U.S. Coast Guard was denied permission to make a planned port call.
The event occurs as worries about Beijing’s sway in the area and Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s efforts to strengthen connections with the Chinese authorities while securing his hold on power have grown.
U.S. Embassy in Canberra: “On Aug. 29, the United States received formal notification from the Government of the Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures.”
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation,” said a spokesperson.
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Naval visits have been put on hold after the Oliver Henry finished its part in Operation Island Chief, which aimed to monitor and stop the region’s ongoing problem with Chinese fishing fleets: illegal fishing. Together with other members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), such as Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, Operation Island Chief was carried out.
Oliver Henry was expected to make a stop in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on August 23 for refuelling and resupply, but Solomons authorities gave it no reaction. The crew was then rerouted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
“It is disappointing that the USCGC Oliver Henry was not provided diplomatic clearance in support of its operation with the FFA,” the U.S. Embassy said in response.
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Matthew Wale, the head of the Solomons opposition, criticised the Sogavare government’s decision.
“‘Friends to all, enemies to none’ is clearly a joke, the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, clearly treats the U.S. and its allies as hostile nations. All our friends must be treated equally,” he said in comments obtained by RNZ.
Following a string of events that seem to indicate Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s administration is strengthening its links to Beijing while simultaneously slowly undermining the country’s democratic institutions, the Solomons’ government has gone radio silent.
On August 18, the government of Sogavare approved a major agreement with the Chinese telecoms company Huawei to construct 161 mobile towers in the nation using a loan of 448.9 million yuan (US$66.15 million) from the government-owned Export-Import Bank of China.
According to several experts, the prime minister’s team submitted a Bill to delay the national elections to Parliament on August 8 in an effort to prevent a possible electoral defeat.
These steps were taken after Sogavare and Beijing signed a security agreement allowing the Chinese Communist Party to post troops, weaponry, and navy ships in the nation. As a result, Beijing would have a military presence near to Guam, New Zealand, and Australia.
The Biden administration has made an effort to increase its presence in the region. On July 12, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a number of Pacific initiatives, including the opening of new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, the assignment of the first-ever U.S. Envoy to the Pacific Forum, and the deployment of the Peace Corps.
The Solomon Islands saw intense fighting during World War II, including the pivotal Battle for Guadalcanal, which lasted six months and cost 1,600 Allied lives.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, and Japan’s Defense Minister Makoto Oniki all attended the 80th anniversary of the Battle, however Prime Minister Sogavare did not.
Chinese foreign policy puts small nations in debt but leaves their internal affairs antiseptically alone. PM Sogavare is doing the same cost-benefit calculations that everyone else does. Solomon Islanders can decide whether he’s protecting their interests.