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Micronesian leaders warn ‘competitive political actors’ exploiting delays in US funding

Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are strategically important to the U.S. military.

Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, which occupy a militarily strategic expanse of the western Pacific, have warned that delays to U.S. financial assistance have created opportunities for “competitive political actors” in the region.

Micronesia’s President Wesley Simina on Thursday released a letter the three countries had sent to Senate leaders, President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials after funding for the island nations wasn’t included as expected in a budget bill sent to the Senate this month.

“Although we understand the delay in the legislation’s approval, it has generated uncertainty among our peoples,” the letter said. “As much as they identify with and appreciate the United States, which formerly governed our islands, this has resulted in undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors active in the Pacific.”

The Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, under agreements known as compacts of free association, give the U.S. military access to their vast ocean territories in exchange for funding and the right for their citizens to live and work in the U.S. The agreements also allow the U.S. to deny other countries access to the waters.

Amid increased U.S.-China rivalry in the Pacific, the three island nations last year signed new economic assistance agreements with the U.S. that were significantly more generous. Budget battles between Democrats and Republicans have delayed implementation despite bipartisan support for the compacts.  

The supplemental budget bill sent to the Senate earlier this month faces many obstacles, with or without compact funding as part of it, due to partisan differences over other funding plans.

The letter didn’t name China but its inroads with Pacific island nations, including a security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022, have recently galvanized renewed U.S. attention on the region.

China’s government has courted Pacific island nations as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain allies in international institutions. Beijing regards Taiwan, a democracy and globally important tech manufacturing center, as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland.

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This handout photo from the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll taken on Jan. 21, 2024 shows an aerial view of a surge of unexpected waves swamping the island of Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands. (U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll/AFP)

Last month Nauru, a Pacific island nation of 10,000 people, severed longstanding ties with Taiwan and recognized Beijing. The Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched their diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019. The Pacific island nations of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu represent a quarter of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies.

The letter dated Feb. 6 from Simina, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine highlights the military importance of the countries’ combined ocean territories, which cover an area that stretches west of Hawaii to near the Philippines and Indonesia.

The U.S. military is building an over-the-horizon radar station in Palau while the Marshall Islands hosts a U.S. ballistic missile testing and space surveillance range on Kwajalein Atoll.

The letter from the island leaders says they “cannot overstate the importance to all our nations of final approval by the U.S. Congress” of legislation for the renewed compacts.

U.S. analysts have recently warned that failure to secure compact funding would be an enormous blunder for Washington and an opportunity for China to undermine American military dominance in the Pacific. 

Micronesia’s previous president, David Panuelo, last year warned of aggressive efforts by China’s diplomats to gain influence in the country, alleging use of bribes and other tactics that he characterized as “political warfare.” 

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Stephen Wright for BenarNews.


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By Stephen Wright for BenarNews | Radio Free (2024-02-08T07:53:17+00:00) Micronesian leaders warn ‘competitive political actors’ exploiting delays in US funding. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2024/02/08/micronesian-leaders-warn-competitive-political-actors-exploiting-delays-in-us-funding/

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