Wellington, New Zealand (AP) -For decades, the small Marshall Islands have been a solid ally of the United States. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is an important strategic outpost for the US military.
But that loyalty is being tested in a dispute with Washington over the terms of the soon-to-be-expired “Compact of Free Association.” The United States refuses to involve Marshalls in allegations of environmental and health damage caused by dozens of nuclear tests conducted in the 1940s and 1950s, including a huge thermonuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll. doing.
Some U.S. lawmakers are concerned that the controversy may be willing to step into a breach as China joins the fierce competition for geopolitical control between the two superpowers.
Since World War II, the United States has treated the Marshall Islands like territory with Micronesia and Palau. In the Marshall Islands, the United States has developed military, intelligence, and aerospace facilities in areas where China is particularly active.
Similarly, US money and work have benefited the Marshall Islands economy. And many Marshallians used their ability to live and work in the United States to move thousands to Arkansas, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.
But this month, 10 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, about a compact US meeting with Marshall, Micronesia, and Palau.
“It is disastrous that these negotiations do not seem to be a priority, even though our international focus continues to shift to the Indo-Pacific. There has been no formal meeting since the inauguration of this administration. It was, “they wrote.
“China intervenes and provides the urgently needed investment in infrastructure and climate resilience that these long-time partners are looking for,” lawmakers said the delays are weakening the United States. I’m ready to do it. “
China’s Foreign Ministry said it should face responsibility for recovering the environmental damage caused by the US nuclear test. China said it is actively involved with the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island nations, based on mutual respect and cooperation, under the “One China Principle” that considers Taiwan as part of China.
“We welcome efforts to strengthen economic relations and improve the quality of life for both sides,” the ministry said in a statement.
China steadily poached allies from Taiwan in the Pacific, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, in 2019.Just this week, Solomon’s angry protesters Light the building And the store that was looted because I was worried that some of them were linked to the Chinese switch.
James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands, said he and hundreds of other people have been banished from the atoll since the nuclear test and hope it will be rejuvenated. He said authorities are in talks with potential investors from Asia after a previous proposal by Chinese and Marshallian businessmen failed.
“It will be a commercial transaction. We will not claim the influence of war or superpowers,” said Matayoshi. “But we want to live in the backyard and enjoy life here.”
Like many others in the Marshall Islands, Matayoshi believes that the $ 150 million US reconciliation agreed in the 1980s was not enough to address the nuclear heritage. He said the deceased mother became pregnant during one major nuclear explosion and was exposed to radiation equivalent to 25,000 X-rays before giving birth to a stillborn baby.
However, the position of the United States has not changed for more than 20 years, and finally Compact appeared for renegotiation. The United States argues that nuclear compensation is treated as a “complete and final settlement” and cannot be resumed.
Marshall’s Senator David Paul, who belongs to the island’s negotiating committee and represents the Kwajalein Atoll, where the U.S. military base is located, said continued high cancer rates and movement of people remain major issues. ..
“Everyone knows that the negotiations at the time were fair or unfair,” Paul said. “Looking at the total cost of property damage and the ongoing health problems, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s an insult.”
The true cost of damage is about $ 3 billion, according to various estimates, including the repair of a large nuclear waste facility known as the cactus dome, where environmentalists say they are leaking toxic waste into the sea.
The U.S. Department of Energy reported to Congress last year that the dome contained more than 100,000 cubic yards (76,000 cubic meters) of radioactively contaminated soil and debris, but there was no immediate risk of structural failure. bottom. The report concluded that the polluted groundwater flowing under the structure had no measurable impact on the environment.
The United States has hampered the debate over nuclear heritage, as it did in previous compact negotiations. This is what the US authorities have acknowledged.
“We know it’s important, but there was a complete and final settlement, and both sides agreed,” said a senior U.S. official who was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly. I spoke on anonymous terms. “Therefore, the issue will not be resumed, but we are still important to us and to work with (Marshallese) on a broader issue that is what we want. I am very pleased. “
The US State Department said the Indo-Pacific is central to US foreign policy.
“We prioritize achieving the success of compact-related negotiations with the Compact of Free Association as a regional foreign policy goal,” the ministry said.
Marshall’s frustration was revealed last month in a letter sent by Foreign Minister Kasten Nemura to California Democrat Katie Porter, who chairs the House Natural Resources Commission’s Oversight and Investigation Commission.
“Relevant state and interior ministry officials did not want to discuss the agenda of the meeting and tried to limit the discussion to their own limited proposals,” Nemura wrote. “The nuclear issue was clearly one reason. All the issues raised by the Marshall Islands faced the allegation that they did not have the authority to discuss the issue without any sign of asking for it.”
Senator Paul said the American approach needed to change.
“I believe the United States has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that this debris is cleansed,” Paul said. “This time we want to be able to make better deals. As they say, the third time is attractive.”
Lee reported from Washington.