A Coast Guard cutter patrolling on an international mission in the Pacific Ocean was denied entry at a port in the Solomon Islands, raising concerns about Chinese influence in the region. The Coast Guard cutter, Oliver Henry, participated in Operation Island Chief, which ended Friday when it sought to refuel, and re-provision at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, the Coast Guard office in Honolulu said.
No response was received from the Solomon Islands government for diplomatic clearance for the vessel to stop there, so the Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea. The British Royal Navy has not directly commented on reports that a British vessel was also denied entry.
As part of Operation Island Chief, the United States, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand provided aerial and surface surveillance support to Pacific Island nations, including the Solomon Islands.
After the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed a new security pact with China, some neighbors, the U.S., and others in the area became concerned about China’s aggressive expansion in the Pacific.
Beijing’s longstanding engagement in the South Pacific and growing influence are reflected in the bilateral security cooperation agreement signed in April 2022. President Xi Jinping has twice elevated China’s diplomatic partnership with the region since taking office. China has eight comprehensive strategic partners in the area, the highest form of diplomatic partnership. Several Chinese officials have visited the region, including Xi, who attended summits there in 2014 and 2018. China and the Solomon Islands signed an agreement to enhance the latter’s national security capability. Other areas of cooperation include humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and efforts to maintain social order. A clause in the agreement says China can make ship visits, carry out logistical replacements, have stopovers and transitions in the Solomon Islands, and send Chinese forces to the country to protect the safety of the Chinese people and major projects. Consequently, the United States and its allies in the region have expressed concern that China might deploy troops to the Solomon Islands and establish a permanent military base there.
In the wake of the agreement, Australia’s northeast coast has become concerned about the possibility of a Chinese naval base being established within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles). The Solomon Islands are not only close to Australia and New Zealand, but they are also close to Guam, a U.S. territory with a large military presence.
Having a strategic location in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands are of concern to the United States and its regional allies as it allows for the potential of a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific, which would significantly expand its military reach.
A former United States Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary responded to the news by tweeting that China is gaining ground in its efforts to gain dominance in the Pacific.
According to Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, China now runs the Solomon Islands.