On Aug. 29, the U.S. Embassy in Canberra revealed that the Solomon Islands had notified U.S. authorities of a “moratorium” on all naval visits pending updates to its “protocol procedures.”
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
The suspension follows an earlier incident on Aug. 23, when U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry was met with radio silence when it requested permission for a scheduled port call. The ship was later diverted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Marles was pressed repeatedly on whether the “moratorium” extended to U.S. allies like Australia by ABC Radio National presenter Patricia Karvelas on Wednesday. But would not provide a clear answer.
“Ultimately, it is a matter for the Solomon Islands, and we respect that and understand that,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Aug. 31.
“Again, I think the point to make in relation to Solomons is that we really believe that if Australia puts in the work and builds our relationship there and makes clear to the Solomon Islands that we are absolutely committed to working with them to improve their development, we will be the natural partner of choice.”
When asked whether the Australian government had sought clarification from the Solomon Islands, he responded, saying: “We don’t have a vessel which is about to go to the Solomon Islands.”
Marles wouldn’t speculate further on the issue.
Pacific Partners Concerned About the Solomons
A day earlier, the Solomon Islands government released a statement saying that they had “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.”
“Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier,” the government stated.
In response, fellow Pacific nation leader Justin Tkatchenko, foreign minister of Papua New Guinea, said the Solomon Islands government needed to think through the consequences of its decision.
“[If] you keep on pushing away a friendly ally, in times of need, they may not be there for you,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “That’s why being friends to all and enemies to none and working with everyone for the benefit of your people and your country is the right way forward.”
He said Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand were currently negotiating a security pact. However, Tkatchenko has denied that it has anything to do with Beijing’s influence in the region, instead saying the pact was based on a “common understanding.”
The Solomon Islands has become a geopolitical hotspot after the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed off on a security pact with Beijing that will allow troops, weapons, police, and naval ships to be stationed in the country—potentially creating a military presence for the Chinese Communist Party near Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. territory of Guam.
At the same time, Sogavare has also sought to tighten his political position after his government submitted a bill to delay the national elections.