In December 2015, the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia, in a fit of anger, passed a resolution signifying its intent to end the Compact of Free Association with the United States by 2018. The resolution, introduced by FSM Sens. Isaac V. Figir, Bonsiano F. Nethon and Robson U. Romolow, expressed the FSM’s resentment against the United States’ attitude toward the Compact, which American officials considered “an act of charity by the United States rather than a treaty between two sovereign nations.”
Such an attitude, unpalatable to FSM Congress, was compounded by the U.S. government’s unilateral decision to make drastic cuts to Compact funding for the College of Micronesia, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s plan to establish a pre-screening process and advanced permission requirement for FSM citizens travelling to the U.S.
FSM President Peter Christian never acted on the resolution, stating recently that FSM “remains committed to its bilateral relations with the United States.” The congressional tantrum has since tapered off. Against the backdrop of China’s aggressive re-positioning in the Pacific region, the United States and FSM are in the process of discussing a potential renewal of the Compact when it expires in 2023.
FSM has a love-hate relationship with its former colonizer and it wasn’t the first time it tried to hold the Compact hostage. Christian introduced a similar resolution when he was a senator in 2011. Now as the country’s top political leader, Christian has become the chief advocate for keeping the Compact intact.
Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016 rattled the FSM leader, who attempted to guess how the new U.S. administration’s foreign policy would shape its ties with the FSM. “What now?” he asked in an open letter to FSM citizens. “While we can only assume that there will be many changes, we can be sure that change will come, and that some of these changes may have far reaching effects on U.S.-international relations, and that those of us closely allied with the United States must be prepared for change, too.”
Nevertheless, Christian sought to assuage his own and his people’s concerns by invoking the legal strength of the Compact. The treaty, he said, “is protected under United States public law and cannot be terminated except by an act of the U.S. Congress.”
During his visit to Washington D.C. in September, Christian engaged with a number of U.S. executive officials and congressional leaders “in keeping with the spirit of the bilateral relationship” under the Compact. In November, the FSM government announced it has entered “a new chapter in the bilateral relations” between FSM and the U.S. with the opening of a new consulate in the U.S. with consular jurisdiction over Oregon, California, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.
Signed in 1982, the Compact of Free Association creates an alliance that is characterized by co-dependency. The treaty provides FSM with annual funding assistance for economic startups and sustainability and grants its citizens visa-free entry to any U.S. jurisdictions. One of the most salient provisions of the Compact is FSM’s commitment to free up some of its important resources, allowing the U.S. to maintain strategic access to lines of communication that extend into the East and South China Sea, where the American military maintains a small constabulary force.
While designed to be mutually beneficial to both nations, the Compact tends to create split perspectives—depending on who’s looking and depending on FSM’s erratic political mood.
In the 2015 resolution, the FSM Congress noted that “the United States derives many benefits from the Amended Compact, not least of which is its exclusive control over the military use of the Federated States of Micronesia’s extensive territorial waters and airspace.”
But with the growing tension in the region triggered by North Korea’s nuclear threat, Christian regards the value of U.S. military presence in FSM as the only front defense for his nation. During his September trip to Washington D.C., Christian reassured U.S. officials that the FSM “will continue to uphold its obligations under the Compact of Free Association, particularly its obligations under Title III for the defense and security interests of both countries.” He noted that “a threat to Guam is a threat to all the people living in the region.”
Pending outcome of the Compact renegotiation, FSM appears to be hedging its bets by cozying up to China. In March last year, Christian made an official trip to China, where he received a red-carpet welcome from Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to CGTN’s report, Xi expressed willingness “to maintain close exchanges at all levels” with FSM.”
Just the same, FSM is bracing for a potential change in 2023. In his open letter to his constituents, Christians said, “The 2023 change will bring Micronesia to the crossroad of economic and financial reality, where the true test of our economic independence will demand answers from within.”