The Solomon Islands’ government yesterday asked countries not to send naval vessels to the South Pacific nation until approval processes are overhauled.
The government made the request after the US Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry and British navy patrol boat HMS Spey canceled planned port calls last week due to bureaucratic delays.
The US and the UK are among countries concerned that a new bilateral security pact between the Solomon Islands and China could lead to a Chinese naval base being constructed less than 2,000km off Australia’s northeast coast.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the Oliver Henry crew had failed to provide required information in time for his office to approve the visit.
The Oliver Henry refueled at Papua New Guinea instead.
HMS Spey withdrew its application to visit, Sogavare said.
“The delay in these approvals demonstrate the need for the government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures for visiting military vessels to Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said in a statement.
“To this end, we have requested our partners to give us time to review and put in place our new processes before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Sogavare added.
He said the new process would universally apply to all visiting military vessels.
The US and British ships have been taking part in Operation Island Chief, which monitors fishing in the region.
The US Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry diverted to the Papua New Guinea capital, Port Moresby, after the Solomons government failed to respond to a request for diplomatic clearance to land in the country.
Australian police have been maintaining peace in the Solomon Islands under a bilateral security treaty since rioting in the capital, Honiara, late last year.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declined to say whether intelligence officials had warned him not to send warships.
“I don’t discuss the briefings that I receive on national security,” Albanese told reporters.
“Australia is very engaged with our Pacific neighbors and indeed Prime Minister Sogavare is going to visit Australia and I will welcome his visit,” Albanese added.
The date of the visit has yet to be announced.
Australian Minister for Defence Richard Marles said whether military vessels were allowed to visit the Solomon Islands was a question for the Solomons government.
“I’m confident that if we put in the work as a nation, we will be the partner of choice for Solomon Islands and we are putting in that work,” Marles told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Asked if he had sought clarification from the Solomons, Marles said there were “ongoing conversations” with Honiara.
The US Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is currently in Honiara
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