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

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, speaks during a memorial ceremony to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Guadalcanal at U.S. Memorial Skyline Hill, in Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Aug. 7, 2017. The Battle of Guadalcanal was the first major offensive by Allied forces against Japan and began Aug. 7, 1942, when over 11,000 Marines landed on the island. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle/Released)

Ben Westcott

Bloomberg News

The U.S. government said it’s disappointed by the Solomon Islands’ decision to ignore a “routine” request by a coast guard vessel to dock, as relations continue to deteriorate between Washington and the Pacific nation.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter received no response from Solomon Islands authorities when it requested permission to stop and refuel at the Pacific nation on Aug. 23, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby confirmed on Monday.

The U.S. official said it 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 U.S. ships, Kirby added.

Relations between the Solomon Islands and the U.S. have deteriorated since the unexpected announcement in April that Prime Minister Manasseh 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.


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