Deputy PM refuses to confirm Solomons ban on Aus ships

Honiara has imposed a ban on US military ships making naval visits to the Solomon Islands.

Honiara has imposed a ban on US military ships making naval visits to the Solomon Islands. Photo: Getty

Defence Minister Richard Marles has refused to confirm if Australian ships have been barred from making naval visits to the Solomon Islands, after Honiara imposed a ban.

The Solomons Island government on Tuesday issued a statement saying: “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.”

“Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”

The statement was issued after reports the US had received formal notification of a moratorium on all naval visits.

The Solomon Islands’ security pact with China has caused political ripples around the world.

Mr Marles said he had seen the reports of the vessel ban.

“Ultimately those decisions are a matter for the Solomon Islands government,” Mr Marles told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Asked if Australia had been issued a moratorium on its naval ships, Mr Marles deflected the question.

“I’m confident that if we put in the work as a nation, we will be the partner of choice for Solomon Islands and we are putting in that work,” he said.

As to whether he had sought clarification from the Solomons Islands, Mr Marles said there were “ongoing conversations” with Honiara.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said the Solomon Islands needed to think about the repercussions 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 ABC when asked about potential repercussions.

“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.”

Australia and PNG are in talks on a security pact, which could possibly include New Zealand.

Mr Tkatchenko said the security agreement was based on a “common understanding”, as opposed to a response to the China-Solomons pact.

“We’re not worried about China at all,” he said.

“We’re comfortable with the current situation and we look forward to seeing what Australia wants to put on the table.”

New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the government had not been approached by Port Moresby about any formal security arrangement.

“We look forward to engaging with the new government in Papua New Guinea and identifying areas for cooperation,” a ministry spokesperson said.

Under its deal with Beijing, the Solomons Islands government can ask China to send armed police and the military to the country.

Mr Marles is in Britain for talks with defence partners and will visit the BAE shipyard to see how they build submarines.

Under the AUKUS partnership, Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines using either US or British designs.

Mr Marles would not confirm reports one of Australia’s Collins-class submarines broke down in Hawaii.

“The Collins class is meeting its operational requirements,” he said.


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