Memorandum of Understanding deepens ties amid growing influence of US, Micronesia and China

The United States and Micronesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Friday reaffirming the close ties between the two countries. This is a deal considered critical to US efforts to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific.

State Department the aforementioned The Memorandum of Understanding reflects a “shared understanding reached regarding the level and type of future US assistance that may be requested of the Federated States of Micronesia.”

“The Memorandum of Understanding, signed as part of the ongoing Free Association Agreement negotiations, confirms our shared vision for a strong and enduring partnership that will continue to benefit our two countries and the Pacific region as a whole,” it added. .

This came after Micronesian President David Panuelo said on February 3 that his negotiating team would sign a memorandum of understanding with the US government to “extend the economic terms for another 20 years.”

Panuelo told reporters during his visit to Japan, “Our relationship has three main pillars under the compact: political, economic, defense or security. KUAM News.” report.

Prime Minister Panuelo met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on February 2 and issued a joint statement (pdf) reaffirmed broad cooperation. The two leaders expressed opposition to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo through force that could undermine regional stability.

The United States is bound by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau through Free Association Agreements. These countries are called Free Association States (FAS).

The agreement allows these states to access US domestic economic programs and allows the US to operate defense bases in these countries. Citizens of the FAS are also permitted to serve in the United States Armed Forces.

On January 13, Panuelo said Micronesia enjoys economic and social benefits under its agreement with the United States. He expected an increase in U.S. military exercises around Micronesian territory over the next few years in the “geopolitical atmosphere of the Pacific”.

“The most important thing is to give advance notice to our citizens when, for example, US fighter jets fly over Yap, or when the US practices ground-based anti-aircraft missile launches,” he said. Panuelo said. his domestic address.

“Though these exercises are set to increase in frequency over the next few years and will ultimately be in the interests of our national interests and national security, the United States is the undisputed guardian of what the public needs to know about them. It’s important: well in advance so that our people see these activities and don’t immediately fear the worst,” he added.

The move comes at a time when China is stepping up its diplomatic efforts in the region.

Beijing has signed multiple agreements with some Pacific island nations, such as Samoa and the Solomon Islands, but a lack of consensus among Pacific island nation leaders prompted Beijing to take drastic action against countries in the region last May. We were unable to get them to sign a comprehensive security and economic agreement.

US must strengthen relations

The United States Institute for Peace (USIP), a federally funded think tank, released a report last September urging the United States to engage with the three FAS countries amid an intensifying power race with China. encouraged to raise.

The report, released September 20, 2022, states that “the United States has historically allocated only limited diplomatic resources to the FAS, and even less to other Pacific island nations.”

“By contrast, China has consular staff who frequently engage in practical and senior-level engagements with all Pacific Island countries with which it has diplomatic relations,” he added.

The terms of the Free Association Agreement expire in 2023 for the Marshall Islands and Micronesia and in 2024 for Palau. The island nations still enjoy close ties with Washington, but critics say a failure to finalize economic aid could lead them to look to China for financing and increased trade and tourism. I am warning you.

The USIP said China perceives Washington’s “limited” engagement as a strategic vacuum in the Pacific island region and is open about its intentions to fill it.

As the race between the United States and the Chinese regime accelerates in the Pacific, the FAS offers a unique opportunity for the United States, whose military is expanding its force posture, the report says.

“U.S. defense rights in the FAS offer unique opportunities for the development of new facilities and dual-use ports and airfields. Meant to have ripple effects in US states and territories.

Venus Upadhayaya and Reuters contributed to this report.