Australia on Tuesday said its navy ships have been given clearance to resume visits to the Solomon Islands, which had last week announced a temporary block on all military vessels during a review of its approval processes.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong (黃英賢) confirmed to reporters that military ships from New Zealand and Fiji would also be allowed to visit the South Pacific nation.
Military ships from the UK, the US and other countries still would not be able to dock, with Pacific nations alarmed about the Solomon Islands increasing security ties to China.
“Of course, we welcome the continued access of a member of the Pacific family — in this case, Australia — to Solomon Islands waters,” Wong told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We are regular visitors.”
Asked if she was disappointed the US was not also given an exemption, Wong said the Solomon Islands had indicated it was making its decisions on a case-by-case basis.
“They are a sovereign nation and that’s a matter for them,” Wong told the broadcaster. “What I would say is that the US has a long history of presence in the Pacific, going back to World War II.”
The move came ahead of a visit to Australia by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“We welcome the prime minister’s visit,” Wong told reporters, adding that she also welcomed his assurance “that Australia remains the security partner of choice.”
The Solomon Islands put the temporary block in place after the US Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry and the British navy patrol boat HMS Spey recently canceled planned port calls due to bureaucratic delays. Both ships were part of an international effort to prevent illegal fishing.
Sogavare said the Oliver Henry crew had failed to provide required information in time for his office to approve the visit. The ship instead refueled in Papua New Guinea.
The 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.
The Solomon Islands did allow a visit last week by the US hospital ship USNS Mercy to go ahead.
Elsewhere in the region, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati is moving toward authoritarianism, its former president said in an interview yesterday, after the government suspended all judges from its appeal and high courts.
Kiribati withdrew from the regional bloc, the Pacific Island Forum, in July, with China denying it had influenced the decision by the tiny atoll nation amid tensions between Beijing and Washington over the Pacific region.
Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, and struck economic and infrastructure deals when China’s foreign minister visited in May.
The Kiribati government suspended three judges sitting on its court of appeal this week, after they ruled against the government’s attempt to deport an Australia-born high court judge who is married to the leader of the opposition party.
Former Kiribati president Anote Tong said the situation was “unprecedented” for the country, which he said had been one of the most stable governments in the region.
“Kiribati is going through quite a serious constitutional crisis. Not to accept the decision of the court would suggest that we may be moving towards a certain state of authoritarianism,” Tong said in an interview in Sydney.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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