Federated States of Micronesia reaffirm diplomatic ties to China

VOA News
Federated States of Micronesia reaffirm diplomatic ties to China Micronesian President David Panuelo talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Dec. 13, 2019.
Noel Celis/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

The Micronesian Congress has reaffirmed the Federated States of Micronesia’s diplomatic ties with China after outgoing President David Panuelo had urged a switch to Taiwan.

The Congress of the island country this week adopted a resolution “to reaffirm and reiterate that the One China Policy remains the official policy of the FSM.” 

The congressional resolution requested that President Panuelo not alter diplomatic relations with China.

China and the United States, its rival superpower, are vying for influence among the many island nations scattered across the western and southern reaches of the Pacific Ocean. China also is competing with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition among those states. 

Micronesia, a country of about 100,000 people, has close ties with the United States and Panuelo has previously expressed concern about Beijing’s attempt last year to forge a security and trade pact with 10 Pacific island nations.

In a letter to Micronesia’s Congress in March, Panuelo accused Beijing of waging “political warfare” in the island nation and bribing his government’s officials.

On a recent trip to Fiji, the Micronesian president alleged that he was followed by Chinese agents. Fijian authorities are investigating his claims.

Earlier this week, Panuelo made even more explosive allegations. In a letter to the speaker of Micronesia’s legislature, he alleged that China was bringing weapons into his island nation, which is located about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Indonesia.

In his previous letter to state governors and members of the Micronesian Congress, dated March 9, he said he had met with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu last month to discuss what Taiwan could offer in exchange for Micronesia’s diplomatic recognition.

The aim of the meeting was  “to solicit from Taiwan what their potential assistance to the FSM could look like if we switched diplomatic relations to supporting them instead of China,” said Panuelo’s letter, which BenarNews obtained.

Paneulo lost his seat in Congress in elections last month. His March 9 letter said that a new government would take office on May 11.

The resolution, which the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia passed on Tuesday, emphasized “the importance of FSM’s consistency in its foreign policies and diplomatic relations which have ‘led to security, peace and stability’ for the Nation.”

The Congress urged that the country’s more than 30 years of “strong diplomatic relations” with China “remain unchanged absent an in-depth study, consultation with this Congress and a broad segment of National and State Governments, and compelling evidence of any negative impact this diplomatic relationship has had on the Nation.”

Graeme Smith, from the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Pacific Beat program. He said that Panuelo’s claims were consistent with his criticism of China.

“He sort of has two prongs of attack,” Smith said. “One is against Chinese companies who are, you know, directly involved in corrupting politicians and offering to fly them anywhere. [He] just says China. He doesn’t say whether it is the state or whether it is these private companies. But certainly, in Africa, that has, you know, long been the trend, is to protect their business interests. They do start to arm-up. But, yes, it is quite an explosive allegation.”

There has been no response to the claims from China.

Micronesia, comprising dozens of islands, is one of three island nations in the northwestern Pacific that receive financial support from the U.S. government in exchange for defense and security under so-called compacts of free association.

Micronesia established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1989.

The Pacific is home to some of the most isolated communities on Earth. Yet the vast region has great strategic value for Australia, the United States and China. The U.S. has a military presence dating back decades.

Over the last decade, China has focused on strengthening its ties in the oceanic region. Australia and New Zealand have regarded the region as their traditional sphere of influence.

China and Taiwan also have a history of competing in the Pacific islands, where four of Taiwan’s 13 diplomatic allies are located. They are the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.

Kiribati and Solomon Islands cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 2019 after offers of aid.

Australia has intensified its efforts in the region in the past year since the election of a center-left government in Canberra.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has conceded that Pacific leaders had been “ignored” and “disrespected” by Australia in the past.

This report was produced by Voice of America (VOA), a sister news agency of BenarNews, with some additional reporting by BenarNews. 


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