Pacific island country bans US ships from docking months after signing pact with China

The Solomon Islands has blocked a US Coast Guard ship from docking for a routine resupply, just months after the chain of strategic islands signed a security pact with China that could ward off US influence in the region.

The US Coast Guard vessel Oliver Henry requested diplomatic clearance to dock in Honiara Harbor on Aug. 23, but the Solomons did not respond, according to Axios. The Solomons imposed a moratorium on the entry of all navy vessels, regardless of their country of origin, while authorities on Tuesday ironed out problems with the approval system, refuting ‘misinformation’ in the media foreigners that the islands had passed on to China by blockading the Oliver Henry, according to a statement.

“We have seen the Chinese try to bully and coerce Indo-Pacific nations into doing their bidding and serving what they believe to be their selfish national security interests rather than the broader interests of an Indo -Free and open Pacific,” White said. House national security spokesman John Kirby said, according to Axios, referring to broader China behavior. (RELATED: China’s neighbors on red alert over Beijing’s military buildup)

China signed a police agreement with the Solomons in March, giving China a role in the internal security of the Solomons, formerly held by Australia, under a 2018 pact, Reuters reported. China has similar security arrangements with other islands in the South Pacific region, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu, according to CNA.

China and the Solomons have also signed a security cooperation agreement that could allow the islands to host Chinese warships and possibly military bases, according to a leaked plan, worrying both the United States and the country. Australia, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities in the Solomon Islands have claimed that a delay in communication between the vessel and the Prime Minister’s Office resulted in the approval being issued after the vessel had departed, even though the Prime Minister had allowed the Oliver Henry to participate in the FFA Island Chief operation to monitor illegal fishing on August 20.

“We have asked our partners to give us time to review and put in place our new processes before sending new requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said.

Problems with foreign military vessels entering Solomons waters without permission also led to the moratorium, according to the Solomons government.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele listen to the national anthem of the Solomon Islands during a ceremony marking the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China September 21, 2019. Naohiko Hatta/Pool via REUTERS

The Solomons are “the stepping stones to East Asia,” former National Security Council director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific security Alex Gray told Axios. “If the Chinese gain influence over any of them, it changes the whole contour of what the United States, Australia and our allies can do across the region,” Gray said.

Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy officially visited the Solomons earlier in August to officially commemorate the Battle of Guadalcanal, when Allied forces fought to retain control of the strategic island chain during World War II, Axios reported.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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Lynn A. Saleh