Pacific News Minute: In Washington, Micronesian Leaders Protest Chinese Pressure In Western Pacific

May 23, 2019

Aerial view of the Washington Monument with the White House in the background.
Credit U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway

Two of America’s closest allies in the Western Pacific have challenged the facade of U.S. strategic policy. While American officials insist that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is not aimed at any individual country, the leaders of Palau and the Marshall Islands named China as the source of military and economic threats in the region.

On Tuesday, the White House issued a bland joint statement after President Trump’s historic meeting with the leaders of Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. All vowed renewed commitment to Compacts of Free Association and agreed to maintain a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific. According to unnamed U.S. officials who spoke with RNZ Pacific, the talks did not focus on China. 

But in transcripts of a separate meeting with Acting Secretary Of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Hilda Heine protested that the three Micronesian nations are targets of Chinese economic pressure.

The leader of the Marshall Islands said that U.S. Navy Commander Admiral Philip Davidson was “spot on” when he told Congress that the Freely Associated States are threatened by the use of Beijing’s economic leverage.

She mentioned illegal fishing.

In an article for The Hill newspaper last week, Tommy Remengesau, Jr. – the president of Palau – cited China’s abrupt decision to punish countries that continue to recognize Taiwan by cutting off tourism. He argued that both geography and shared values make the Freely Associated States important assets in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, which he then described as a plan to counter Chinese expansionism and its militarization of islands in the region.

U.S. officials always insist that the policy is not a plan to counter China, and the entire region will be listening closely when Secretary Shanahan unveils the latest version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy at a conference in Singapore later this month.