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U.S. funding delay could create opening for China, Pacific Island nations warn

By 37ci3 Feb18,2024



HONG KONG – The Budget impasse in Congress Three US allies are further delaying crucial funding for the Pacific islands, potentially making them more vulnerable to their influence. Demonincluding more Taiwantheir leaders warned.

Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia former US-administered trust territories, they are now independent states and maintain close ties with the US through agreements known as Free Association Agreements (COFA).

In exchange for economic aid and defense guarantees, the three countries give Washington exclusive military access to an area of ​​the Pacific Ocean larger than the continental United States, at a time when the United States and China compete for dominance in the strategically vital region.

The security agreements were successfully renewed last May for another 20 years and were due to be implemented on October 1. But, months later, despite bipartisan support, $7.1 billion in funding still hasn’t been approved by Congress.

In a joint letter sent this month to multiple senators, the leaders of Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia said the delay had “created uncertainty among our peoples” and “resulted in unwelcome opportunities for economic exploitation by competing political actors” in the Pacific.

Congress is embroiled in controversy over an emergency supplemental budget request that includes aid Israel, Ukraine and the island of Taiwan claimed by Beijing. His confirmation was blocked by Republicans who insisted that security on the US border with Mexico should also be addressed.

Funding for the three Pacific island nations was included in earlier drafts of the budget request, but was removed at the last minute.

The delay has created economic uncertainty for Palau, which has a population of about 18,000 and was struggling with declining tourism even before the Covid-19 pandemic. To some, that makes China a more reliable partner, President Surangel Whipps, Jr. said.

“This creates an opportunity for the CCP to really undermine Palaan’s trust in our relationship with the United States,” Whipps said in an interview with NBC News on Friday, referring to China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party.

“When you’re sensitive, why not drop the bait?” He noted that Chinese investors “came and made all these promises.”

China’s economic incentives are believed to have played a role The Nauru decision last month shifting diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, leaving Taiwan with only three allies in the Asia-Pacific region; Palau, Marshall Islands and canvas.

As it seeks to isolate Taiwan internationally, it is expected that China will try to win over these countries as well.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands and Palau are in the same situation: we both recognize Taiwan and so we are under a lot of pressure to reassess that relationship,” said Whipps, who is up for re-election this year. former rivals have called for stronger ties with China.

The White House is involved in efforts to counter China in the region Indo-Pacific Economic Pact announced and hosted two summits of Pacific Island leaders since Pres Joe Biden took office. He also moved to open or reopen US embassies in Kiribati. Tongathe Solomon Islands and VanuatuAll countries where China already exists.

The Biden administration has urged Congress to approve funding for Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia as soon as possible. Without safety compacts, a researcher told CongressIt would cost the United States $100 billion a year to secure the same part of the Pacific alone.

Mira Rapp-Huper, director general for East Asia and Oceania at the National Security Council, said, “The funding for COFA is second to none in terms of our strategic objectives that we have to undertake this year, and it simply needs to be done,” said Mira Rapp-Huper, director of the National Security Council’s East Asia and Oceania Policy, on Thursday in Washington, D.C., organized by the US Institute of Peace think tank. said at the event.

Whipps said the actions of Congress are crucial for his country and the future of the Indo-Pacific.

“We believe and hope in democracy, freedom and the United States,” he said, “and we expect this whole drama to have a successful outcome.”



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