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PoliticsSolomon Islands

Solomon Islands to ban foreign navy ships after China pact

August 30, 2022

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said all foreign navy vessels will be temporarily blocked from docking at the Pacific Island nation. The news has strengthened fears over growing Chinese influence.

A ship docked at a port in the city of Honiara
Foreign naval ships will not be allowed at the docks in Honiara (pictured) or elsewhere on the Solomon Islands, at least temporarily, though a humanitarian aid vessel that docked last week is allowed to remainImage: Kyodo/picture alliance

Foreign navy ships will not be allowed to enter ports on the Solomon Islands as the Pacific Island is planning to place a moratorium on them, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said on Tuesday.

The prime minister made the announcement hours after the US embassy in Canberra, Australia said it had been informed US Navy ships would be temporarily barred from docking.

"We have requested our partners to give us time to review and put in place our new processes before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country," Sogavare said.

US relations with Solomon Islands

Relations between Honiara and Washington have been tense ever since the Solomon Islands reached a security agreement with China earlier this year.

"On August 29, the United States received formal notification from the Government of Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures," the embassy said in a statement.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Prime Minister Sogavare had denied the initial reports of a moratorium for US vessels, later clarifying that it would include all foreign naval ships.

His announcement on Tuesday was made during a welcome speech for a US vessel that arrived before the moratorium. He said he was reviewing how to allow naval vessels to once again dock in the country.

Chinese security agreement

Fear over China's expanding influence in the Pacific region has led the US, Australia and New Zealand to urge Sogavare to not sign the pact.

The draft deal, revealed in a leak in March, set out terms including the possibility of China sending armed forces to the islands to protect its investments, as well as docking its warships.

The proximity of the Solomon Islands to the US territory on the Pacific Island of Guam has sparked particular concern.

Australia on alert over Solomon Islands-China pact

"The broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC [People's Republic of China] military forces to the Solomon Islands," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in April.

The signing of the pact "could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region," he said.

Navy hospital ship allowed to dock ahead of moratorium

A US Coast Guard vessel that was patrolling for illegal fishing in the region was unable to make a routine port call at Honiara last week due to a failure from the island nation to respond to a request for refueling and provisions.

Sogavare said that he wanted to build up the country's own naval capacity, citing the "unfortunate experiences of foreign naval vessels entering the country's waters during the course of the year without diplomatic clearance granted."

Another US Navy ship, the Mercy, was, however, allowed to enter the port on Monday as it had arrived before the moratorium. The hospital ship is carrying out a two-week humanitarian mission.

"The United States is pleased that the U.S. Navy Ship Mercy subsequently arrived in Honiara August 29 to begin its two-week humanitarian mission, together with personnel from Australia and Japan," a spokesperson at the US embassy in Canberra said.

The Pacific Island nation, with its 700,000-strong population, was hit by violent riots in November last year in which several people died. Sogavare blamed the unrest on unnamed foreign countries that were supposedly angered by the country cutting off relations with Taiwan in 2019.

ab/msh (Reuters, dpa)