Pacific Partnership 2022 begins amid Solomon Islands foreign navy ban

The Pacific island has been growing closer to China following a security pact signed in March.
By RFA Staff
Pacific Partnership 2022 begins amid Solomon Islands foreign navy ban Pacific Partnership 2022 kicked off during a public ceremony in Unity Square in Honiara on Aug. 29.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

U.S.-led humanitarian assistance mission Pacific Partnership got underway in the Solomon Islands this week, just as the Pacific island nation announced a suspension of all foreign naval visits amid growing ties with China.

Pacific Partnership 2022, “the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific,” kicked off in the island’s capital Honiara on Aug. 29, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command.

In its 17th year, this is Pacific Partnership's fifth time in the Solomon Islands, the statement said.

The mission focuses on military and civilian organizations working together to ensure communities’ preparedness in responding to disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

USNS Mercy.jpg

U.S. Navy Hospital Ship USNS Mercy docks in Honiara on Sept. 1. CREDIT: U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby

As the hospital ship USNS Mercy conducts her first visit to the country, the government in Honiara suspended visits by all foreign naval ships, citing the need to review approval requirements and procedures.

Last week, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel and a British Royal Navy vessel failed to get clearance to dock in the Solomon Islands after the local government did not respond to requests to allow them to refuel and take on provisions.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the "lack of diplomatic clearance for the [Coast Guard vessel] Oliver Henry was regrettable.”

The U.S. Embassy in Canberra said the USNS Mercy, one of the U.S. Navy’s two hospital ships, had arrived before the moratorium came into effect but the said Embassy will closely monitor the situation.

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare said in a statement sent to Reuters that the port call suspension "will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels" and will be lifted once a proper new process is in place.

U.S. ‘suspicion’

Yet there are concerns about an uneasiness in the dealings between the Solomon Islands and the West, especially as Beijing and Honiara show signs of rapprochement.

In March, China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact that could help extend China’s military reach in the Pacific. 

Details of the deal have never been made public but the U.S. hastily dispatched several top diplomats to the Pacific and vowed to respond to any attempt to establish a Chinese military base in the island nation.

On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was regrettable that "we've seen the Chinese try to bully and coerce nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to do their bidding and to serve what they believe their selfish national security interests are, rather than the broader interests of a free and open Indo-Pacific."

When asked about the ship visit suspension, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “Solomon Islands is a sovereign country. It has the right to make its own decisions.”

Chinese media meanwhile accused the U.S. of “hyping the decision as a hostile gesture” and said that Washington’s suspicion only highlighted its “deep insecurity” over ties with South Pacific nations.   

Chinese officials have maintained that the security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands “is based on equality and mutual benefits.”

Beijing has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and allies of treating Pacific island nations as their backyard, with a Cold War mentality.


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