By Ben Westcott (Bloomberg) The Solomon Islands has temporarily suspended all naval visits by the US as relations continue to deteriorate between Washington and the Pacific nation.
The US government was notified by the Solomons on Monday of a “moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures,” according to a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Canberra, who said that officials will continue to “monitor the situation.”
The confirmation comes after a US Coast Guard cutter received no response from Solomons authorities when it requested permission to stop and refuel at the Pacific nation on Aug. 23.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the visit by the cutter was a “routine” call and the vessel ended up diverting to Papua New Guinea instead. The government was “disappointed in this decision” but expected that future clearances would be provided to US ships, Kirby added.
In a statement on Tuesday, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the US Coast Guard vessel had received permission to dock, but by the time it had been relayed to the ship it had already left the country’s waters. Sogavare said the government had put the moratorium on visiting naval vessels from “all partner countries” until the approval process had been revised and updated.
Sogavare said in the statement there had been “unfortunate experiences” in the past with foreign military vessels entering the Pacific nation’s waters without permission.
“Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all,” he added. “We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”
Relations between the Solomon Islands and the US have deteriorated since the unexpected announcement in April that Sogavare had signed a security pact with the Chinese government. It was the first such agreement in the region and a major diplomatic win for Beijing.
The final wording of the pact has not been released, however a draft version leaked in March would have allowed the Chinese military safe harbor for its warship just 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the Australian coastline.
The US and Australia have undertaken a major diplomatic outreach to Pacific island nations in recent months to try and counter Beijing’s influence, including a speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Pacific Islands Forum and multiple visits by Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
The Solomon Islands government has insisted it has no intention of allowing a Chinese military base in its territory.
By Ben Westcott © 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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