from The Epoch Times:
The Solomon Islands has informed U.S. authorities that all naval visits have been suspended until further notice following an earlier incident on Aug. 23 when a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the Oliver Henry, was denied permission for a scheduled port call.
The incident comes amid mounting concerns about Beijing’s influence in the region and Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s moves to deepen ties with the Chinese regime while solidifying his hold on power.
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According to the 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,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
The freeze on naval visits comes after the Oliver Henry wrapped up its part in Operation Island Chief to monitor and prevent illegal fishing activity in the region—an ongoing issue with Chinese fishing fleets. Operation Island Chief was conducted in conjunction with members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), including Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.
Oliver Henry was supposed to stop in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on Aug. 23 for refuelling and re-provisioning but received no response from Solomons authorities. Subsequently, the crew were diverted 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.
Solomons PM Solidifying Power
The Solomons opposition leader Matthew Wale was critical of 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.
The radio silence from Solomons authorities follows a series of incidents suggesting the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is not only deepening ties with Beijing but also steadily eroding the country’s democratic institutions to strengthen his position.
The Sogavare government signed off on a major deal with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei on Aug. 18 to build 161 mobile towers in the country with a 448.9 million yuan (US$66.15 million) loan from the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China.
On Aug. 8, the prime minister’s team submitted a Bill to Parliament to delay national elections, which some experts have suggested could be a way for the prime minister to avoid a potential election defeat.
These actions come after Sogavare locked in a security pact with Beijing to allow the Chinese Communist Party to station weapons, troops, and naval ships in the country. This would give Beijing a military presence close to Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. territory of Guam.
The Biden administration has attempted to ramp up its support in the region with Vice-President Kamala Harris announcing a swathe of Pacific initiatives on July 12, including new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, the first-ever U.S. Envoy to the Pacific Forum, and dispatching the Peace Corps.
The Solomons was the site of extensive fighting during World War II in the decisive Battle for Guadalcanal that resulted in six months of fighting and 1,600 Allied casualties.
Prime Minister Sogavare did not make an appearance at the 80th anniversary of the Battle despite attendance from Japan’s Defence Minister Makoto Oniki, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.