US official says Solomon Islands leader ‘missed opportunity’

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The U.S. deputy secretary of state said Monday the Solomon Islands prime minister “missed an important opportunity” by not attending a memorial service to mark the anniversary of a key World War II battle. World War, amid concerns. the South Pacific island nation is building closer ties with China.

Wendy Sherman and US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy were among the dignitaries who attended a sunrise service near the capital Honiara on Sunday to mark the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Sherman’s father, Marine Mal Sherman, and Kennedy’s father, the late President John F. Kennedy, were nearly killed in the fighting in the Solomon Islands. Kennedy had been the commander of a patrol torpedo boat that was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Sherman was wounded during the Guadalcanal campaign, which was the Japanese Army’s first defeat in World War II.

Local media reported that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who signed a security pact with China this year, he appeared to have turned down the ceremony, a claim his office later denied.

Sherman declined to say whether he viewed the prime minister’s absence as a slight. He said that Sogavare “will have to answer to his own citizens why he made the decision that he made,” in an apparent reference to the upcoming elections.

“I told the prime minister directly that I was very sorry that obviously his schedule did not allow him to come because he missed an important opportunity,” Sherman told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“This was a place where international leaders came together to say that working with Solomon Islanders, at the time of World War II, was decisive for victory, for guaranteeing freedom and democracy. And I really felt sorry for the prime minister because I think he missed an important opportunity,” he added.

Sogavare denied a snub, telling the Solomons Star News in a statement that the government was well represented at all events during the three days marking the ministerial-level anniversary.

The statement said newspaper claims of a snub were misleading and lacked understanding of the protocols applied at such events.

The pact with China it has raised fears that a Chinese naval base could be established within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of Australia’s northeast coast. A Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands would put it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand, but also very close to Guam, the US territory that is home to major military bases.

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

Sherman said that Sogavare had repeated the assurance during his recent visit that there would be no Chinese base.

“This is a situation where we will all be very vigilant to see what happens here. It’s pretty critical,” Sherman said.

In April, a US delegation to Honiara led by Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Region, and Daniel Kritenbrink, Under Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, warned that the United States would take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands. in case the agreement with China represents a threat to the interests of the US or its allies.

Sogavare accused the United States and Australia of threatening and disrespectful behavior.

China’s growing influence in the Pacific has prompted the United States to commit to reopening an embassy in Honiara that closed in 1993. Washington has also pledged to open embassies in Tonga and Kiribati, a Micronesian state that, like the Solomon Islands, , recently switched allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing.

The Solomon Islands ceremony attended by Sherman and Kennedy was briefly interrupted when an assailant armed with a pair of scissors attacked a Japanese sailor.

Radio New Zealand reported that the victim was part of a Japanese navy media team and was stabbed in the neck, receiving minor injuries.

The report quoted doctors as saying the sailor needed stitches but was doing well. Bloody Ridge Community Chief Wesley Ramo said the suspect was from a neighboring community and was under the influence and mentally unstable.

Makoto Oniki, Japan’s state defense minister, and New Zealand defense minister Peeni Henare also attended the ceremony.

The suspect reportedly knocked the sailor to the ground during the attack before locals and US military personnel intervened and detained him. The police then took him away and the ceremony resumed after a short break.

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McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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