Who lost the Solomon Islands? That’s the question many are asking after that nation announced it is refusing the United States Navy from entering any of its ports. It’s a major blow to U.S influence in the South Pacific.
The move is seen as a sign the island government is attempting to placate Communist China. During the Trump administration, the Islands had a close relationship with the U.S. and Taiwan. Foreign policy experts say the U.S. is losing influence in the region under the Biden administration because many governments see how Afghanistan was abandoned after the disastrous U.S. military retreat.
That tense relationship with the Biden administration and its allies culminated in May with the Islands striking a security pact with China.
In a statement on Tuesday, the US embassy in the Australian capital, Canberra, said it has “received formal notification from the Government of Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures”.
There was no immediate comment from the government of the Solomons.
The move came a week after a US Coast Guard vessel was blocked from refueling in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
The USCGC Oliver Henry was on patrol for illegal fishing in the South Pacific for a regional fisheries agency when it failed to obtain entry to refuel at Honiara, the US Coast Guard said. The vessel was instead diverted to Papua New Guinea.
The British Royal Navy did not comment directly on reports that the HMS Spey, also taking part in Operation Island Chief, was also denied a port call in the Solomon Islands.
“Ships’ programs are under constant review, and it is routine practice for them to change,” the Royal Navy said in a statement. “For reasons of operational security we do not discuss details. The Royal Navy looks forward to visiting the Solomon Islands at a later date.”
During Operation Island Chief, the US, Australia, Britain and New Zealand provided support through aerial and surface surveillance for Pacific island nations participating in the operation, including the Solomon Islands.
Both the Solomon Islands and China have denied their pact will lead to a Chinese military foothold in the South Pacific, although a leaked draft of the agreement showed the security agreement would allow the Chinese navy to dock and replenish.