A map showing the Solomon Islands
Source: Google Maps

Who Owns the Solomon Islands? Concern Grows Over China's Influence

Danielle Letenyei - Author
By

Aug. 29 2022, Published 2:44 p.m. ET

Concern over China’s possible influence in the Solomon Islands was raised last week when a port call for a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to refuel there went unanswered. The Coast Guard had to divert its course to Papua New Guinea instead. Who owns the Solomon Islands?

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The Solomon Islands is an independent island country comprised of six main islands and over 900 smaller islands in the South Pacific east of Papua New Guinea. Much of the country was under British rule between 1893 and 1978.

solomon islands
Source: Getty Images
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The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain on July 7, 1978, but it's still a member of the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. The country is a constitutional monarchy that operates under the parliamentary system of government.

Solomon Island Prime Minister agreed to a security pact with China.

The U.S.’s concern over the Solomon Islands began after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare agreed to a security pact with China in May. Officials are afraid that the agreement between the two countries will allow China to put a naval base in the Solomon Islands that would be close to the northeast coast of Australia and the U.S. territory of Guam.

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Both China and the Solomon Islands deny the pact will lead to a Chinese military foothold in the South Pacific, the Associated Press reports. However, a leaked draft of the agreement showed China could deploy police or soldiers to the island nation for training and to help maintain order, NPR reported in April.

“We told the Solomon Islands leadership that the United States would respond if steps were taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities or a military installation in the Solomon Islands,” Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told NPR.

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The Coast Guard's request to port in the Solomon Islands wasn't answered.

The U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Oliver Henry, was in the South Pacific patrolling for illegal fishing operations when it sent a request to dock at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands to refuel and re-provision, the Associated Press reports. The Solomon Islands government didn’t respond to the request for diplomatic clearance to stop there, so the ship changed course to Papua New Guinea.

“The U.S. Department of State is in contact with the Government of the Solomon Islands and expects all future clearances will be provided to U.S. ships,” Coast Guard public affairs officer Kristin Kam told Reuters.

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Newt Gingrich blames weakness in Biden’s foreign policy.

On Fox News on Aug. 29, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich blamed the pact between China and the Solomon Islands on weakness in President Joe Biden’s foreign policy.

“A Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be seen as a very real threat. That's part of why we fought with Japan in 1942,” Gingrich said on Fox News. “I'm sure the Chinese, after our visits to Taiwan, went overboard to try to get the Solomon Islands to snub the Americans.”

Proposed legislation would establish three U.S. embassies in the South Pacific.

senator blackburn meets with solomon islands prime minister sogavare
Source: Senator Marsha Blackburn

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn visited the Solomon Islands on Aug. 24 to “showcase America’s commitment to the region and expanding our strategic relationships.” Blackburn is part of a bipartisan group of senators who recently introduced legislation to establish three new American embassies in the Pacific Islands, including the Solomon Islands.

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