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Outbound President of Micronesia unwilling to comply with China’s Pacific influence

BY TAYLOR GREEN



President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) David Panuelo certainly has been a proponent of speaking his mind in his time in office. Despite loosening his tie as the time comes for him to finally step away from his post, Panuelo certainly will not let this barricade him from expressing his own thoughts regarding China. In a scathing letter, he outlines the espionage and corruption he and his country have been direct victims of.


The actions that Paneulo purports his nation became enveloped in include direct threats in China's alleged inroads into Taiwan. Admittedly, the actions Panuelo alludes to here have not been entirely uncharacteristic of the Chinese operation of a particular spy balloon. The President referred to this in his letter and argued vehemently that China had conducted similar, more direct espionage. This was a prelude to a deflating trust between nations that ultimately burst with his explosive take on China this month.


Panuelo has been critical of China's influence on the Pacific islands with its regional security deal, which was ultimately rejected by Pacific leaders. China seems to be attempting to exert power over these islands; Panuelo is not keen to hold the door open for them invitingly.


Panuelo also claims that he has uncovered China's attempt to invade Taiwan. Again, this is not an entirely far-fetched idea, as Taiwan is of great importance to China with their reliance on Taiwan in the global supply chain. However, there are stressed relations between them. Despite the economic ties they hold, China has clearly internalised the idea that Taiwan should belong to them and this is to happen by any means possible. Many threats and fears were raised over China's propensity to invade or launch large-scale warfare. It has been an event many other nations have been afraid of, and it is a legitimate fear. Furthermore, Xi Jinping only recently argued to "actively oppose the external forces and secessionist activities of Taiwan independence."


In place of China, Panuelo will now cast his eyes on a potential relationship and bridge to Taiwan, while severing the existing bridge between Micronesia and China. However, his creating so much confusion and chaos will leave the next leader the task of picking up the pieces. This will ultimately be very tricky to navigate in a transitional period, and an established leader may have better dealt with this issue to lead the change rather than one on the cusp of exit.


Although, even if an established leader were in place, I would argue that Micronesia relies heavily upon China; this move could be a tragic misstep in breaking down relations with a nation that has significant influence in the region. China also has invested heavily in Micronesia. Despite this, though, it is clear that the President believes that this threat is so severe that it must be dealt with through immediate action. He feels he cannot allow for the continuation of China’s attempted plans to exert control over the area and alleges that "they're simply awaiting the new President to take power so Mr Wu [China’s choice for ambassador to FSM] can become the Ambassador of China to the FSM." He is therefore taking these steps to guarantee agency over whether the next leader may become persuaded to permit such an intervention.


This desire for control also links to a long-developing discourse over influence in the Pacific islands from China, Japan, Australia and the US.

Politically, China now has become far more direct and hostile with its foreign policy and growing prominence in the world economically and politically. For example, with the scouring for natural resources in the South China Sea, China seeks to battle other nations regionally for dominion over these. The nation has thus shown its will and propensity to extend its global power.


China now has sought to extend their considerable influence throughout the seas further to the Pacific. This intention and influence from China has shocked Australia and the US - two nations that hold significant influence amongst the island nations. These nations rely on the islands’ geographical position as military buffers. With China in the way, this means that governments of these nations realise it is incumbent on them to take some level of action here to steady relations and ensure that they do not drift far from their established US-Australian relations.


However, the President of Micronesia's decision is precarious for the US, as Micronesia looks to divert its focus to Taiwan this further builds tension between the US and China. At the same time, the US hopes to retain stable relations with China as a necessity, specifically in trade. In addition, the US has pledged to provide nuclear submarines to Australia to protect the Pacific from Chinese encroachment. Yet this development could further frustrate China in its effort to expand.


While Micronesia relies on Chinese relations heavily, the US still provides the islands with security and safety and is a tentative ally in their separation from China. Therefore, in many ways, Micronesia will remain secure despite this messy break-off from China.


Micronesia will likely come out of this a little shaken but with enough backing from the US and Australia to steady the ship. Moreover, considering recent developments, it seems relatively legitimate in its claims against China and desire to step away.


Image: Flickr/US Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks

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