Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #17: Life in Free Association

When discussing the future possibilities for Guam in terms of political status change and decolonization, the talk inevitably turns towards the other islands in Micronesia as examples. They are invoked sometimes as cautionary tales, meant to frighten those interested in learning more into accepting less in political terms, and just embracing one's colonial status in order to avoid becoming a place such as the Federated States of Micronesia or FSM. At the same time, a place such as Palau/Belau, which has become a darling of international media lately, is often pointed to as providing a example for Guam to follow. One things that makes this sort of exercise intriguing is the fact that the islands surrounding Guam can all help us understand more about the nature of Free Association, both its advantages, but also its potential dangers.

The CNMI to the north of Guam represents Free Association in the sense of intimately connecting oneself to their colonizer, perhaps in a way that reinvents or reinforces a colonial relationship. Although the CNMI was able to negotiate a number of rights as part of their agreement with the United States, the political intimacy with the United States left the CNMI without the ability to negotiate effectively. We saw this in the way in which certain powers that were part of their original agreement with the United States have been given up, through a process known as Federalization.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is another form of Free Association, but with more autonomy, based around a strategic value and a history of environmental exploitation and abuse. The Marshall Islands became their own political entity because of the base in their islands and also the terrible legacy from the nuclear testing conducted there. Those things gave them some power in terms of negotiating, but support or respect from the United States waxes and wanes with less consistency than the moon. Even if people on Guam may consider the United States the richest and most powerful and greatest country in the world, they should look at the way in which the United States routinely tries, in rather odious ways to escape their financial and moral obligations to the people of the Marshall Islands.

Palau is often pointed to as being the best example within the Micronesian area of a nation that is using its freely associated status in a way that is closest to political independence. Palau has gained international recognition, especially through its aggressive environmental policies aimed at protecting its aquatic resources. Palau experienced its own time of struggle in obtaining its free association status, when its desired constitution conflicted with the interests of the United States, and the US kept them in political limbo for years trying to force it to give up its nuclear free dreams.

The Federated States of Micronesia exists because of those who were left to negotiate with, and did not seek their own autonomous path. Out of the four island groups surrounding Guam, it seems to the have the least to offer the United States and the most negative associations, both in Guam and in Hawai'i. While the others mentioned have their own importance to the US in various ways, the true is not true for the FSM, and as such the United States routinely drops the pretense of treating them like an ally or fellow independent nation, and instead treats them like children who are always begging for money and causing problems. This came to a head last year when a group of leaders in the FSM proposed a bill calling for an early end to their compact agreement with the United States, because of the way the United States looks down on the FSM and acts like the agreement is charity on their behalf rather than something negotiated between two serious partners.

Each of these island groups offer lessons for Guam today. Offer ways of seeing the advantages of being freely associated and the potential disadvantages.

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Palau's patience tested by U.S. Congress' funding delays
by Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News
July 10, 2016


Congress’ years of failure to approve a $216 million, 15-year funding package for Palau has caused frustration with the island nation’s citizens, who have given the United States exclusive military access to Palau for decades.

Ambassador Hersey Kyota voiced Palau’s sentiment at the House Natural Resources Committee’s Insular Affairs Subcommittee hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

“The resulting delay is not understood by, and is a matter of great frustration, among the people of Palau and its friends in the Pacific,” Kyota’s testified, on behalf of Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr.

Congress’ delays in approving another round of funding for Palau, comes at a time when China is courting the support of Pacific island nations.

Gregorio Sablan, the Northern Marianas congressional delegate, is the chief sponsor of legislation that seeks congressional funding approval for Palau. Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and Hawaii lawmakers are supporting Sablan’s efforts, congressional records show.

Strategic area

Sablan testified at the congressional subcommittee hearing that Palau has become an “increasingly important and strategic area of the world.”

While Palau has given the U.S. military access to the island nation for defense purposes, the delay by the U.S. in approving the funding assistance for Palau makes “it seem as though the United States is not good for its word,” Sablan said.

The Defense Department has sent letters to Senate and House leadership, expressing support for inclusion of funding for Palau in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, which is a good sign, Sablan said, “but we must reach the finish line.”

The United States runs the risk of losing Palau as a strategic partner if Congress fails to approve the renewal of the island nation’s Compact of Free Association agreement, Bordallo said Thursday. The agreement also allows Palau citizens to live and work in Guam and other U.S. jurisdictions, and has allowed Palauans to volunteer to serve in the U.S. military.

“Renewal of the Palau compact is crucial to our country’s continuing strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region,” Bordallo said.

China concerns

Beijing is concerned the redeployment of U.S. troops to Guam and the proposed development of a training range in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are directed against China, wrote Kristien Bergerson, a senior policy analyst at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in a March 2016 research report, “China’s Efforts to Counter U.S. Forward Presence in the Asia Pacific.”

“While Beijing is concerned about the U.S. military footprint, China’s tourism industry has been acquiring hotels and apartment buildings in Palau and hotel and casino development projects in Saipan, as well as establishing Chinese-operated tour organizations in the CNMI,” the report stated.
Congress created the commission in 2000 to submit an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Palau’s Compact of Free Association agreement with the United States hasn’t been renewed since it expired in 2009, according to Bordallo. The U.S.-Palau agreement reached in 2010 awaits approval by Congress.

Federal funding

While waiting for congressional approval of U.S. funding for Palau, the federal government continues to provide about $13 million a year in funding assistance to Palau, according to a federal report.

Since 2011, the United States has provided $79 million in economic assistance to Palau through annual appropriations, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a recent report to Congress.

If Sablan’s H.R. 4531 were enacted, Palau would receive approximately $30 million more in U.S. assistance through fiscal 2024 than it would receive under the 2010 agreement, according to the GAO report.

This set of lawmakers in Congress have several months remaining in their terms, and many of them are busy trying to get re-elected, including Bordallo.

In April, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held hearings for the proposed Compact renewal.

High-power lobbyist

Palau has spent years waiting for Congress’ approval of a new round of funding assistance, even with the help of a former part-time federal government bureaucrat who also worked as a lobbyist for Palau and Puerto Rico.

In one of the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks last year, lobbyist Jeff Farrow directly emailed to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Palau was “offended by U.S. positions” during 2009 negotiations on the Compact funding.

Farrow described in his email to Clinton that, despite a statement by “very impressive Palau reps” at a June 2009 negotiation, “the Palau delegation was deeply disappointed with the response of the United States delegation.”

Two days later, Clinton forwarded the email to Jacob Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, and wrote: “Jake --- Pls review, do some recon outreach and advise what, if anything, we should do. Thx. H.”
Clinton’s emails, including emails from Farrow on Palau, have received national media and watchdog groups’ scrutiny because Farrow, as a lobbyist for a foreign government, had direct email access to the State Department’s top boss.

Farrow’s emails to Clinton on Palau was listed as No. 4 out of the “Top 10 Most Ethically Challenged Hillary Emails,” published in March 2016 by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.

Compact migrants

While supporting funding for Palau, Bordallo also repeated her call for Congress to take action on her proposal to further help Guam, Hawaii and other U.S. jurisdictions afford public services provided to immigrants from Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

She said Guam and other host jurisdictions of these immigrants “spent hundreds of millions to support the compacts and migrants, and Congress must provide relief that would alleviate these costs.”

GovGuam reported to the federal government earlier this year that it spent $149 million to provide services to Compact migrants in 2015, raising GovGuam’s tally to close to $1 billion over a dozen years, a federal office’s report to a U.S. Senate committee states.

Before last year’s reported cost, GovGuam has sought reimbursement from the federal government for $825 million that the local government reported as the cost of services to regional migrants from 2003 to 2014.

The federal government has provided about $33 million a year in Compact funding assistance, which Guam shares, primarily with Hawaii.

However, the GAO has said in a report that GovGuam’s numbers, as well as the tab presented by other local governments which host of the regional migrants, are in doubt. GAO questions the accuracy and credibility of the numbers, in part because the host local governments “did not include federal funding that supplemented local expenditures, or include revenue received from Compact migrants,” the office stated in a report.

Impatient friend

While Palau has been a staunch ally of the United States, Bordallo said further congressional delays could strain the United States’ friendship with the island nation.

“The people of Palau are patient, but their patience is being seriously tested,” Kyota said. “Approval of the agreement is now critical — not just for Palau, but because of the dynamic changes occurring in the Western Pacific.”

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 This dome in the Pacific house tons of radioactive waste - and its leaking

by Coleen Jose, and Jan Hendrik Hinzel
The Guardian
July 3, 2015

Black seabirds circle high above the giant concrete dome that rises from a tangle of green vines just a few paces from the lapping waves of the Pacific. Half buried in the sand, the vast structure looks like a downed UFO.

At the summit, figures carved into the weathered concrete state only the year of construction: 1979. Officially, this vast structure is known as the Runit Dome. Locals call it The Tomb.

Below the 18-inch concrete cap rests the United States’ cold war legacy to this remote corner of the Pacific Ocean: 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive debris left behind after 12 years of nuclear tests.
Brackish water pools around the edge of the dome, where sections of concrete have started to crack away. Underground, radioactive waste has already started to leach out of the crater: according to a 2013 report by the US Department of Energy, soil around the dome is already more contaminated than its contents.

Now locals, scientists and environmental activists fear that a storm surge, typhoon or other cataclysmic event brought on by climate change could tear the concrete mantel wide open, releasing its contents into the Pacific Ocean.


“Runit Dome represents a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, who visited the dome in 2010.

“It resulted from US nuclear testing and the leaving behind of large quantities of plutonium,” he said. “Now it has been gradually submerged as result of sea level rise from greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries led by the United States.”

Enewetak Atoll, and the much better-known Bikini Atoll, were the main sites of the United States Pacific Proving Grounds, the setting for dozens of atomic explosions during the early years of the cold war.

The remote islands – roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii – were deemed sufficiently distant from major population centres and shipping lanes, and in 1948, the local population of Micronesian fishermen and subsistence farmers were evacuated to another atoll 200 km away.
In total, 67 nuclear and atmospheric bombs were detonated on Enewetak and Bikini between 1946 and 1958 – an explosive yield equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonated every day over the course of 12 years.

The detonations blanketed the islands with irradiated debris, including Plutonium-239, the fissile isotope used in nuclear warheads, which has a half-life of 24,000 years.


When the testing came to an end, the US Defence Nuclear Agency (DNA) carried out an eight-year cleanup, but Congress refused to fund a comprehensive decontamination programme to make the entire atoll fit for human settlement again.

The DNA’s preferred option – deep ocean dumping – was prohibited by international treaties and hazardous waste regulations, and there was little appetite for transporting the irradiated refuse back to the US.

In the end, US servicemen simply scraped off the islands’ contaminated topsoil and mixed it with radioactive debris. The resulting radioactive slurry was then dumped in an unlined 350-foot crater on Runit Island’s northern tip, and sealed under 358 concrete panels.

But the dome was never meant to last. According to the World Health Organization, the $218m plan was designed as temporary fix: a way to store contaminated material until a permanent decontamination plan was devised.

Meanwhile, only three of the atoll’s 40 islands were cleaned up, but not Enjebi, where half of Enewetak’s population had traditionally lived. And as costs spiralled, resettlement efforts of the northern part of the atoll stalled indefinitely.

Nevertheless, in 1980, as the Americans prepared their own departure, the dri-Enewetak (“people of Enewetak”) were allowed to return to the atoll after 33 years.

Three years later, the Marshall Islands signed a compact of free association with the US, granting its people certain privileges, but not full citizenship.

The deal also settled of “all claims, past, present and future” related to the US Nuclear Testing Program – and left the Runit Dome under the responsibility of the Marshallese government.

Today, the US government insists that it has honoured all its obligations, and that the jurisdiction for the dome and its toxic contents lies with the Marshall Islands.

The Marshallese, meanwhile, say that a country with a population of 53,000 people and a GDP of $190m – most of it from US aid programs – is simply incapable of dealing with the potential radioactive catastrophe left behind by the Americans.

“It’s clear as day that the local government will neither have the expertise or funds to fix the problem if it needs a particular fix,” said Riyad Mucadam, climate adviser to the office of the Marshallese president.

Today, Runit – the setting for JG Ballard’s short story Terminal Beach – is still uninhabited, but it receives regular stream of visitors heading from neighboring islands to its abundant fishing grounds or searching for scrap metal to salvage.

Approaching the island by boat across from the vast, shallow lagoon – the world’s second largest – the concrete structure is barely visible among the scrubby trees.

Three decades after the Americans’ departure, abandoned bunkers dot the shoreline, and electric cables encased in black rubber snake across the sand.

Nowhere on the beaches or the dome itself is there a warning to stay away – or even an indication of radioactivity.

Enewetak’s senator Jack Ading, who lives in Majuro 600 miles away, doesn’t believe his home atoll is safe: resettlement efforts in Rongelap and Bikini atolls, also affected by testing, had to be aborted in the 1970s due to lingering contamination, despite safety assurances by the US.

“Just close it off,” said Ading, who has called for armed guards to be stationed on the site – or at the very least the construction of a fence.

“If they |the US government] can spend billions of dollars on wars like Iraq, I’m sure they can spend $10,000 for a fence. It’s a small island. Make it permanent for people not to visit Runit Dome and the surrounding area, ever.”

Locals say they know there is “poison” on the island – there is no Marshallese word for contamination – but say that Runit offers one of the few sources of income on the impoverished atol.
The US has yet to fully compensate the dri-Enewetak for the irreversible damage to their homeland, a total amounting to roughly $244m as appraised by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, which was established in 1988 to adjudicate claims for compensation for health effects from the testing.

Traditional livelihoods were destroyed by the testing: the US Department of Energy bans the export of fish and copra – dried coconut flesh used for its oil – on the grounds of lingering contamination.
Nowadays, the atoll’s growing population survives on a depleted trust fund from the Compact of Free Association with the US, but payouts come to just $100 per person, according to locals.

Many locals are deeply in debt, and dependent on a supplemental food program funded by the US Department of Agriculture, which delivers shipments of process foods such as Spam, flour and canned goods. The destruction a centuries-old lifestyle have lead to both a diabetes epidemic and regular bouts of starvation on the island.

Those who can afford it have taken advantage of the Compact’s visaless travel benefits and migrated to Hawaii.

“Enewetak has no money. What will people do to make money?” asked Rosemary Amitok, who lives with her husband Hemy on the atoll’s largest island.

The couple eke out a living by scavenging for scrap copper on Runit and other islands on the atoll. For weeks at a time, they camp out in a makeshift tent on the island while Hemy digs for cables and other metal debris.

The sell the salvage for a dollar or two per pound to a Chinese merchant who runs Enewetak’s only store and exports the metal, along with sea shells and sea cucumbers to Fujian in China.

Other – and more worrying – traces of Enewetak’s history have also reached China: according to a 2014 study published in Environmental Science & Technology, plutonium isotopes from the nuclear tests have been found as far a the Pearl River Estuary in Guangdong province.

Many people in Enewetak fear that one day the dome will break open, further spreading highly radioactive debris.

As catastrophic weather events become more frequent, recent studies – including 2013 study of the Runit Dome’s structural integrity carried out by the DoE – have warned that typhoons could destroy or damage the cement panels, or inundate the island.

A 2013 report commissioned by the US Department of Energy to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory acknowledged that radioactive materials are already leaching out of the dome, but downplays the possibility of serious environmental damage or health risks.

“The waste within the dome is at least contained. There aren’t too many concerns for the Runit Dome to pose a threat to local people,” said Terry Hamilton, the scientific director for the Marshall Islands Program of the DoE-commissioned Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Hamilton said that cracks in the concrete were merely the result of long-term drying and shrinkage, but said the DoE was planning to carry out cosmetic repairs in order to restore public confidence.
The DoE insists Enewetak is safe for human settlement today, and says it monitors local residents, groundwater, crops and marine life for radiation. Separate checkups are carried out on those suspected of digging for scrap metal.

Though Enewetak is not allowed to sell its copra and fish, Hamilton insists the produce would satisfy safety standards on the international market.

But locals complain that basic information – including results of their own tests for exposure to plutonium – is not readily accessible to them.

Independent scientists say that salvaging Runit’s scrap metal may expose locals to much higher risks.
“Those guys are digging in the dirt breathing in stuff in hot spots. That has to be hundreds of thousands times higher doses of potential health effects than swimming,” said Ken Buessler, a senior scientist and marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who visited Runit and gathered samples of sediment in the lagoon earlier this year.

In 2012, Barack Obama signed legislation directing the DoE to monitor the groundwater beneath the dome, conduct a visual study of its exterior and submit reports determining whether contamination in the dome poses a health risk to the dri-Enewetak.

In an emailed response to questions, US ambassador to the Marshall Islands Thomas Armbruster said that a recent meeting between the US, the DoE and the Marshall Islands government was “one of the best ever”.

The minister himself remembers that encounter differently.

Tony De Brum was nine years old and living on the atoll of Likiep, when he witnessed the blinding flash, thunderous roar and blood-red skies of Castle Bravo, the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated by the US, which was tested at Bikini Atoll on 1 March 1954.

Now the Marshall Islands minister of foreign affairs, he has since emerged as a voice for small island nations in international climate negotiations and leading advocate on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. De Brum is spearheading an ambitious lawsuit against the world’s nuclear powers, including the US, at the International Court of Justice.

“We asked the Americans, are you going to put a sign on the dome that says ‘Don’t come here because you might get exposed’?” he said.

“Our president asked: ‘Are you going to put a sign up so that the birds and turtles also understand?’”
The US has never formally apologized to the Marshall Islands for turning it into an atomic testing ground. When the UN special rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste, Calin Georgescu, visited the Marshall Islands in 2012 he criticized the US, remarking that the islanders feel like ‘nomads’ in their own country. Nuclear testing, he said, “left a legacy of distrust in the hearts and minds of the Marshallese”.

“Why Enewetak?” asked Ading, Enewetak’s exiled senator during an interview in the nation’s capital. “Every day, I have that same question. Why not go to some other atoll in the world? Or why not do it in Nevada, their backyard? I know why. Because they don’t want the burden of having nuclear waste in their backyard. They want the nuclear waste hundreds of thousands miles away. That’s why they picked the Marshall Islands.”

“The least they could’ve done is correct their mistakes.”

This article is part of a multimedia project produced by The GroundTruth Project
This article was amended on 13 July 2015. The original article stated that the Defense Nuclear Agency later became the Department of Energy. In fact, the DNA became the Defense Special Weapons Agency in 1996 before being combined with other agencies to form the current Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in 1998. The amendment also corrects line stating that the the Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established by the US Congress.
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In December 2015, in an oft overlooked corner of the globe, the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (F.S.M.) introduced a resolution* signifying the intent to end the Compact of Free Association with the United States of America in 2018. The two sides were in the process of discussing a potential renewal of the Compact when it expires in 2023.

While the rest of the world watches events in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is positioning itself to be in the driver’s seat in an area of key strategic interest to the United States. If Washington fails to act in a timely manner to renew the sometimes troubled Compact relationship, it will inadvertently drive the Micronesians into the arms of China and simultaneously leave a gaping hole in strategic access.

The Compact of Free Association is a little known element of the complex web of relationships that spans the global interests of the United States of America. At the end of World War II, the United Nations established relationships between recently liberated Japanese Imperial holdings and the winning parties. As a result, the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) were established by UN mandate (Security Council Resolution 21 signed July 18, 1947) and United States assumed responsibility for oversight. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the U.S. developed and implemented the current civil code and mechanisms that are the basis of governance in the F.S.M. today. Beginning in the mid-1960s, moves towards autonomy in the region led to the establishment of the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Republic of Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Federated States of Micronesia consists of four districts: Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap. All the districts consists of multiple islands and atoll groupings that represent in excess of 2,600,000 square kilometers of land and territorial waters with a population slightly more than 100,000 citizens located strategically in the western portion of the North Pacific Ocean east of the Republic of the Philippines and north of Papua New Guinea. Historically, these islands were called the Caroline Islands and they experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific Campaign during World War II.

As a key feature of the Compact, the United States provides for the defense of F.S.M. This allows F.S.M. to free up important resources while maintaining a small constabulary force consisting of a small paramilitary force in the Division of Maritime Surveillance. As members of the Compact, Micronesians can freely join the U.S. military without permanent residency or citizenship. The agreement allows the U.S. to maintain strategic access to Lines of Communication that extend into the East China and South China Sea and beyond, waters that account for a majority of the trade and energy commodities transiting through Asia. With approximately one-third of global trade and nearly 50 percent of energy commerce passing through the region, it’s understandable why U.S. security interests maintain visibility on F.S.M.

Administration of the islands has been a source of tension between the local Micronesian people and the U.S. government since the establishment of the TTPI in 1947. The U.S. military (as administered by the U.S. Navy from Guam from 1947-1951) used many of the atolls in the region for open nuclear weapons testing, resulting in many diseases (cancer, birth abnormalities, and diabetes). In addition to the long-term health implications, continued resentment in the local populace remains below the surface.

The Department of the Interior is the current U.S. government agency that manages the Compact relationship with F.S.M. through the mechanisms of the Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO). JEMCO’s purpose is to “strengthen management and accountability with regard to the assistance provided under the Compact, as amended, and to promote the effective use of funding provided thereunder.” The JEMCO relationship provides for joint oversight of the Compact, but is viewed as being overly favorable towards the U.S. side of the relationship. The Compact agreement allows free movement of F.S.M. citizens to the rest of the U.S. with legal non-immigrant status. The majority of Micronesians migrate to Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. The associated costs with the arrangement weigh heavily on already limited budgets in the destination states and countries. The U.S. Congress has authorized increased funding in the budget over the last few fiscal years to address these impacts.

Both sides of the Compact relationship agree that there are economic, education, and healthcare concerns in F.S.M. It is solving those concerns where disagreement takes place, with Micronesians accusing the U.S. government of mismanagement and being too slow with development aid. The Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs in Honolulu also recognizes the unique set of challenges to F.S.M. and its neighbors and recently provided recommendations to Congressional leaders on how to address the concerns: “1) Addressing Freely Associated States (FAS) Out Migration 2) Improved coordination of Current Federal Programs and Funds 3) Establishment of Micronesian One-Stop Service Centers and 4) Establishing a Federal Interagency Group on Compact Impact Aid.”

Ending the Compact: Say What?

Although the Compact of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia is scheduled to expire in 2023, the process for renegotiating the relationship with the United States has been ongoing throughout the agreement’s history. The most recent amendment to the agreement took place in 2003 with the passing of Public Law 108-188 by the 108th U.S. Congress. This highlights the ability to periodically go back and address policy and implementation concerns. The move to end the Compact in 2018 is not only five years early, it disrupts the funding of programs that are mandated through a 15-year provision cycle. In the current amended agreement, annual mandatory financial assistance is scheduled to end in 2023 and be replaced with a general trust fund. The Trust Fund was established and continues to report annually in accordance with the amended 2003 Compact.

Ending the Compact in 2018 impacts F.S.M. more than it does the U.S. For one thing, Micronesians currently living abroad will lose their immigration status and face a potential loss of federal benefits already being provided. In F.S.M.s view, the ending of the Compact provides an opportunity to redefine the relationship with the U.S. and set things on a more equal footing, replacing the existing junior-senior partner relationship with one between two independent sovereign nations. The most serious impact from the U.S. standpoint is in the provision of security and defense for F.S.M. If that is not provided by the United States, who then would be the guarantor of Micronesian security? This is where the People’s Republic of China enters the picture.

China’s Growing Influence and the Second Island Chain Strategy

At a time when news on the South China Sea disputes and the tensions in the East China Sea dominates the 24 hour news cycle, the growing Chinese influence in the Pacific islands seems to go generally unnoticed. However, Beijing’s growing presence has become of significant concern to many nations, including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. The influence is generally low key, taking the form of a “soft power” approach that provides economic and developmental aid with “no strings attached.” As the investment and aid eclipses that provided by the U.S. and others in the region, Chinese influence carries more weight, including in foreign policy decisions, such as negotiations over the Compact of Free Association with F.S.M. Through numerous large-scale infrastructure investments (many of which are of questionable quality), small-scale programs and organizations, as well as the construction of Official Residences, the Chinese have demonstrated “a stark (difference) as the U.S. clearly and openly begun a process of decreased funding…leading to the end of the major bilateral agreement between it and the FSM.” Although concerns such as these were highlighted almost 10 years ago, Chinese investment is more noticeable now than ever. Overseas Developmental Assistance (ODA) from China has increased steadily since 2003, from minimal amounts to an officially reported total of $28 million. Anecdotal information estimates that the actual figure could be as much as three to four times higher. Reports of numerous trips by F.S.M. Congressional leaders to China only exacerbate the perceptions of influence and a reluctance to engage the U.S.

Despite the relatively benign view of investment by the Chinese in F.S.M., the issues of maritime security and strategic access provide more cause for concern. With the ending of the Compact, the U.S. could potentially lose free access to the strategic lines of communication that connect the Pacific Ocean to the vital traffic of the East and South China Seas. Yet, there’s more in the context of China’s grand strategy involving the Second Island Chain and methods to stop intervention (called “counter-intervention” in Chinese military literature) in defending China’s maritime periphery. The Second Island Chain refers to a element of China’s strategy that involves maintaining its maritime security interests in a tiered perspective.

Possession of portions of the Second Island Chain allows China to become “springboards against foreign force projection.” Restricting access to these regions, such as F.S.M., supports Chinese military and national strategy goals. In the regional view of security, when tied to the Island Chain concepts, F.S.M. fits neatly into a number of jigsaw puzzle pieces that are falling into place for China in securing its national interests.

Security Implications: Why the US and Others Should Care…

While the time and attention of policymakers is focused rightly on the events taking shape in the East China Sea and South China Sea, there is another significant security issue that requires a focused effort from U.S. national decision makers. If F.S.M. were to gracefully fall into the long-term sphere of Chinese influence, the ramifications would be tremendous. Some will look at this issue as if the Micronesians are artfully coercing the United States into a sweeter long-term deal. However, if we understate the implications, then the U.S. will face a shift in regional security that leaves nearby Guam at risk and other key allies in the region with much more to think about regarding the relationships with the U.S.

In the case of other national interests in the region, just as China views itself being encircled, imagine the Philippines’ perception with strategic access potentially being cut off to its immediate west, eventual reintegration of Taiwan into mainland China to its north, and strategic access restricted to a newly changed situation directly to its east. Encircled? Yes.

The same dilemma will face other actors in the region such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, South Korea, and all the way to India and Europe. Limited strategic access for trade, resources, and military response will be made even more difficult by forcing interested countries to use longer lines of communication that add days and weeks that will be reflected in higher costs for material goods.

The Compact of Free Association needs more time and attention before the agreement terminates in 2018. The U.S. needs to prioritize efforts to ensure that security interests long term are not adversely impacted.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Matelski is a U.S. Army War College Fellow at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

*Corrected. The resolution has only been introduced, and has not yet passed.

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