Aug 29, 2022 - World

Solomon Islands bars U.S. Coast Guard ship, raising China influence fears

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (R) meets with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Honiara in May. Photo: Xinhua via Getty

The Solomon Islands did not allow a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to make a routine stop to refuel and resupply at a port in the Pacific island nation that has lately fallen under China's sphere of influence.

Why it matters: The Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China in April that the U.S. and Australia fear could allow Beijing to dispatch security forces there or even establish a naval base. Both countries have conducted significant outreach to the islands to restore their influence there, without clear success.

Driving the news: The U.S. government requested diplomatic permission for the Oliver Henry, a Guam-based Coast Guard cutter, to make a routine stop in Honiara on Aug. 23 but received no response, as Stars and Stripes was first to report.

  • A Coast Guard spokesperson, Cmdr. Dave Milne, told Axios the Coast Guard "respects the sovereignty of our foreign partners" and looks forward to "future engagement opportunities with the Solomon Islands."
  • But National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the White House was "disappointed" by the "regrettable" decision, noting that the ship ultimately diverted to Papua New Guinea.
  • "Clearly we've seen the Chinese try to bully and coerce nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to do their bidding and to serve what they believe their selfish national security interests are rather than the broader interests of a free and open Indo-Pacific," Kirby said, clarifying that he was not referring to this specific incident but China's actions more broadly.
  • The Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

The big picture: Pacific Islands like the Solomons are “the stepping stones to East Asia,” Alex Gray, who served as director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific security at the National Security Council during the Trump administration, tells Axios.

  • "If the Chinese gain sway in any of them, it changes the entire contour of what the U.S. and Australia and our allies can do in the entire region," Gray says.

Worth noting: A U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, was allowed to dock in Honiara today as part of a long-planned humanitarian mission.

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