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US vessel barred from Solomon Islands as China extends influence

As concerns grow over China’s influence in the Pacific, a US Coast Guard cutter could not get clearance to make a scheduled port stop in Solomon Islands.

According to Stars and Stripes, the vessel, named the Oliver Henry was carrying out patrols in an international mission to stop illegal fishing. It stopped to refuel on Guadalcanal.

Coast Guard Lt Kristin kam told the paper that the Solomon Islands government had not responded to the request for diplomatic authorization for the vessel to be stopped.

Friday’s mission was ended after the Oliver Henry was diverted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

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The US Coast Guard is the law enforcement, maritime security and search and rescue service branch of the Armed Forces.

According to the report, the cutter arrived in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, approximately 1,800km (497 mi) from the Solomon Islands “following a patrol through parts of the Coral Sea or the Solomon Islands”.

The Royal Navy declined to comment on reports that HMS Spey was denied a port stop in the Solomon Islands by the Royal Navy.

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The Royal Navy stated that “ships’ programs are constantly under review and it is routine for them to change.”

“We cannot discuss details for operational security reasons. The Royal Navy is looking forward to visiting Solomon Islands at a later time.

The mission, known as Operation Island Chief by the US, Australia and Britain, provided aerial and surface surveillance support for Pacific island countries participating in the operation.

Image: Manasseh Sogare, right, leader of Solomon Islands, hosted Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, in May. Pic: AP

In a period when China is assertively seeking to expand its influence and presence in the Pacific, the vessel was not permitted to stop in China.

Manasseh Sogavare is the prime minister of Solomon Islands. He raised concerns when he said he had signed a new security agreement with China.

There are fears that a Chinese naval base could be established within 2,000km (1.200 miles) of Australia’s northeast coast.

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A Chinese military presence on the Solomon Islands would place it close to Australia and New Zealand, as well as Guam, which is the US territory with major military bases.

Both China and the Solomon Islands have denied that their pact would lead to a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific.

In August, Mr Sogavare raised eyebrows when he missed a memorial service to mark the anniversary of Battle of Guadalcanal. This was a crucial battle in Second World War where American and other allies retook control of the islands from Imperial Japan.

Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary-of-state, whose father was injured during the Guadalcanal Campaign, and who attended the memorial said that Mr Sogavare had “missed an opportunity” by not attending.

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Could there have been a US-China War?

On Wednesday, US Senator Marsha Blackburn met Mr Sogavare at the Solomon Islands. However, it wasn’t clear if she raised the matter of the refused port call by the coast guard.

In a statement posted on her website, the Tennessee Republican stated that her visit to Solomon Islands and Fiji was “an important step in showcasing America’s commitment to this region and expanding our strategic relations”.

Stars and Stripes was informed by Lt Kam that the US State Department had spoken to the Solomon Islands government after the refusal of the port visit and that they “expect all future clearings will be given to US ships”.

This development comes just weeks after Nancy Pelosi , the US House Speaker, visited Taiwan. It sparked one most significant escalations of tensions between Americas and China in years.

Beijing believes Taiwan is part of China’s country. President Xi Jinping doesn’t rule out using military force to bring Taiwan into China.

Joe Biden, the US President, has reiterated America’s commitment towards the island and even said that they would be willing militarily to defend it.

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