Solomon Islands Blocks All US Navy Ships – Exempts NZ and Australia
As ties between Washington and the Pacific country continue to deteriorate, the Solomon Islands has momentarily suspended all US naval visits. According to a representative of the US Embassy in Canberra, the Solomon Islands informed the US government on Monday of a "moratorium on all naval visits, pending revisions in protocol procedures," and that officials will continue to "watch the situation."
The news comes after a US Coast Guard cutter asked permission to halt and refuel in the Pacific island on August 23 but got no answer from Solomons authorities. The visit by the cutter was a "regular" call, according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, and the ship ultimately made a diversion to Papua New Guinea. Although the government was unhappy by this choice, Kirby continued, it was anticipated that US ships will receive approvals in the future.
The Solomon Islands' prime minister informed parliament on Monday that the country's temporary prohibition on foreign ships visiting its ports will not apply to Australian and New Zealand navy ships.
According to Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare, foreign military vessels assisting the government of the Solomon Islands would likewise be excluded. The United States, Australia, and New Zealand expressed worry about China's expanding influence after the Solomon Islands inked a security agreement with China in April that, according to a draught that was leaked, permits the Chinese navy to resupply in Honiara.
Following events in which a U.S. coast guard vessel and a British navy vessel on patrol for illegal fishing were unable to refuel in Honiara, Sogavare last week declared a ban on foreign navy ships entering port.
When asked about the moratorium by opposition lawmakers, Sogavare responded that military ships sent out as part of the SIIAF—a pact that allows Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji to collaborate with the Solomon Islands police—would be exempt. Therefore, he added, "Military vessels deployed under SIIAF are exempt during the moratorium."
The United States, which intends to establish an embassy in Honiara, claimed to have learned of the ban on all foreign navy vessels on August 29. In an effort to counter China's expanding influence, the United States pledged a month earlier to enhance funding and step up surveillance of illegal fishing in the Pacific.
According to Sogavare, the cabinet made the decision to impose the military vessel ban after considering "the benefits and risks to the Solomon Islands of any visits by any military vessels." He added that the moratorium was not directed against the United States.
He stated that his agency needed additional information about the incoming vessels because the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain have joined the illegal fishing patrols. For an exemption, he said, the Forum Fisheries Agency, which is based in Honiara and represents Pacific Island countries with abundant tuna stocks, would need to inform his office of which naval boats are participating in monitoring missions.
As modifications to the constitution that would postpone a general election are anticipated to be approved by parliament this week, tensions are high in the Solomon Islands.