Solomon Islands’ snap ban on foreign military vessels’ stokes fear of China’s growing clout

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A Chinese flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The Solomon Islands’ snap ban on foreign military vessels docking at Honiara port have stocked new fears over China’s growing clout in the Islands, where China is accused of stationing its military warships and deploying troops, media reports said.
Enforcing its territorial rights, Solomon Islands denied docking permission for two international warships — The British patrol boat HMS Spey and the US Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry.
Both of these warships were compelled to divert to other ports after taking part in a 15-nation, 10-day mission to deter illegal fishing in the region, reported news.com.au.
Analysts believe that this is the second blow of fear over Beijing’s growing influence in the South Pacific region. The earlier leaked document of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands appears to allow China to station its warships there and deploy troops to protect its investments.
Both the ships were anchored near the Honiara port of Solomons Island on August 30. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare announced a moratorium on accepting all international naval visits.
Accusing the patrol vessels of failing to provide the necessary paperwork in time for his office to grant approval, he snapped ban on all the foreign naval vessels to dock at the Honiara port.
“The delay in these approvals demonstrates the need for the government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures for visiting military vessels to the Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said.
“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,” he added.
This is a key development as Solomon Islands appears to be in tight clutches of Beijing and this China’s growing stronghold is worryingly evident.
According to the media portal quoting Pacific Forum non-resident fellow Philip Citowicki, the move “falls into an alarming trend”. However, some analysts would still like to observe the situation evolve a bit more before jumping the gun.
Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) national executive director Dr Bryce Wakefield says it’s too early to reach a conclusion. “It’s tempting to frame everything that the Solomon Island government does at the moment in light of its security agreement with Beijing,” he told news.com.au.
“But it’s entirely possible that the Sogavare government wants to improve its processes precisely because it has received increased international attention due to its security deal with China.” (ANI) zee5