12 November 2019 15:38

United Kingdom United Nations Chagos Archipelago

President says Marshall Islands facing pressure from China

Leaders of the Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) are well used to seeing each other. They share a neighbourhood in the North Pacific and meet annually at the Micronesian Presidents' Summit to discuss strategies on key issues such as climate change, fisheries, and their relationship with the United States. As a group they are referred to as the Freely Associated States, based on their Compact of Free Association with the United States; they are independent countries, but the US provides financial and defence assistance in exchange for exclusive territorial access. Their latest challenge will take place today in Washington, when, for the first time ever, presidents of all three countries will have a joint meeting at the White House with US President Donald Trump. So, what is it that Presidents Hilda Heine (RMI), Remengesau (Palau) and newly-elected David Panuelo (FSM) want from their meeting with Trump?

The agency has a solid history of providing funding and technical support to the Freely Associated States, each of which face different challenges due to climate change and disaster preparedness. The crater left from a 1954 nuclear test on Bikini Atol, Marshall Islands (Photo: NASA Visible Earth) Reaffirming commitment to the Compact and demonstrating how it is "the backbone of America's Pacific military strategy" as Remengesau recently wrote will be the most important goal for leaders of the Freely Associated States. Like many island countries, Palau, FSM, and RMI face mounting challenges in non-communicable diseases; FSM and RMI have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, and citizens of the RMI still cope with ramifications of being a former nuclear testing site. "I've just been with the President of the Marshall Islands (Hilda Heine), who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area," Mr Guterres said in Fiji, AFP reported. But the deal also settled "all claims, past, present and future" tied to the nuclear testing, and left the dome in the care of the island government.

The Marshall Islands is being targeted by Chinese economic pressure, including dubious illegal ship visits and a proposed semi-autonomous district, says the country's president, Hilda Heine. Ms Heine's remarks - which came during talks in Washington with Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) - are the latest in a series of protestations of Beijing's sway by Micronesian leaders, threatening to disrupt careful efforts by US officials keen to downplay China's rise. "Admiral Davidson was spot on when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Freely Associated States are threatened by the use of Beijing's economic leverage," Ms Heine said on Tuesday, in reference to the US Navy commander, Philip Davidson. "We deal with illegal ship entries, supposedly for fishing," added Ms Heine during a meeting with acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, Palau President Tommy Remengesau and FSM President David Panuelo. According to transcripts of the meeting, Ms Heine was the only leader to directly raise the issue of Chinese influence, a topic senior US officials had said was unlikely to be raised during talks with President Donald Trump.

Still, her comments come just days after Mr Remengesau wrote an opinion piece in US political newspaper The Hill saying the US Freely Associated States were part of a strategy to counter China's expansionism and militarisation, which threatened to break out into war in the Western Pacific. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres raised concerns Thursday that a concrete dome built last century to contain waste from atomic-bomb tests is leaking radioactive material into the Pacific. Speaking to students in Fiji, Guterres described the structure on Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands as "a kind of coffin" and said it was a legacy of Cold War-era nuclear tests in the Pacific. "The Pacific was victimized in the past as we all know," he said, referring to nuclear explosions carried out by the United States and France in the region. The island nation was ground zero for 67 American nuclear weapons tests from 1946-58 at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, when it was under U.S. administration.

Guterres, who is touring the South Pacific to raise awareness of climate change issues, said Pacific islanders still needed help to deal with the fallout of the nuclear testing. "I've just been with the president of the Marshall Islands (Hilda Heine), who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area," he said. The "coffin" is a concrete dome, built in the late 1970s on Runit island, part of Enewetak atoll, as a dumping ground for waste from the nuclear tests. Guterres did not directly address what should be done with the dome but said the Pacific's nuclear history still needed to be addressed. Donald Trump hosts Pacific leaders in historic White House meeting amid US-China tensions Leaders of three tiny Pacific nations formerly governed by the United States have been hosted at the White House by US President Donald Trump in a historic meeting.

free battle

Key points: It marks the first White House meeting between a US president and Freely Associated States leaders US military presence in the Pacific was on the agenda as the presidents of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau met with Mr Trump and other US officials. It is the first time leaders of the three countries, which together make up the Freely Associated States (FAS), have together met with an American president at the White House, and comes against the backdrop of China's increasing influence in the Pacific. Their meeting with Mr Trump was closed to media but a joint statement released soon after said the four nations had pledged to work together to combat illegal fishing, advance economic development and support the Pacific environment. Security ties were also likely discussed, as the US has some control over the Pacific countries' defence and foreign affairs under an agreement known as the Compact of Free Association. "We are encouraged by the US commitment to increase its presence in the region, which is crucial to regional and international peace and security," Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said in the statement. Palau President Tommy Remengesau wants to see the US military presence in the country increased further. It is unclear whether the leaders were able to raise climate change — a key issue for Pacific island nations — with Mr Trump, who has been sharply criticised in the past for scaling back US action on climate change. Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine has previously called his decision to withdraw from the United Nations Paris climate accord "concerning". Topics: government-and-politics, world-politics, donald-trump, foreign-affairs, united-states, pacific