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China ally Solomon Islands snubs US Coast Guard ship

USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) crew arrives in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea after scrapping a port call in the Solomon Islands. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Col. Karl Wethe)
August 26, 2022

The government of the Solomon Islands — who formed a security pact with China this year — ignored requests from a Guam-based U.S. Coast Guard Cutter to access one of the nation’s ports this week.

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Coast Guard Lt. Kristin Kam told the Stars and Stripes that the Sentinel Class Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) was scheduled for a port call in Guadalcanal but the Solomon Islands government ignored requests for final clearance to use the port.

“The Government of the Solomon Islands did not respond to the U.S. Government’s request for diplomatic clearance for the vessel to refuel and provision in Honiara,” Kam told Stars and Stripes. “Accordingly, CGC Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea to refuel and provision.”

The Oliver Henry arrived at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, according to a Coast Guard press release.

“The U.S. Department of State is in contact with the Government of the Solomon Islands and expect all future clearances will be provided to U.S. ships,” Kam said.

The apparent decision to ignore the U.S. request for clearance comes as the Solomon Islands government has deepened ties with the People’s Republic of China in recent months. This spring, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare announced a new security pact with China.

The security pact came after China reportedly pressured the Solomon Islands government to allow plainclothes Chinese security teams armed with pistols, rifles and machine guns to enter the country after riots broke out in Honiara near the Chinese embassy last year.

President Joe Biden warned in April against China establishing a broader military presence in the Solomon Islands.

The decision to ignore the U.S. Coast Guard cutter’s request for port clearance is just the latest sign that China may be pulling the Pacific nation further away from the U.S. diplomatically.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited the Solomon Islands earlier this month to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of the 1942 World War II Battle of Guadalcanal. During the battle, U.S. troops, allied forces and Solomon Islanders fought to expel Japanese forces who had occupied the islands.

Sogavare caught attention when he skipped out on the Guadalcanal battle memorial event. Sherman said at the time that Sogavare “missed an important opportunity” by skipping the event, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) visited Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea this week. In a statement, she said “the Indo-Pacific Region is the next frontier for the New Axis of Evil,” and said her visit with leaders of those three countries provided “an important step in showcasing America’s commitment to the region and expanding our strategic relationships.”

Blackburn’s statement did not say whether she discussed the U.S. Coast Guard incident with Sogavare.