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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Breaking away from FSM? Think again, US envoy tells Chuuk

Compact of Free Association will never be on the table again for any country in the world

On March 5, 2019, the citizens of Chuuk will head to the polls for a secession vote. The Chuuk Independence Movement, which claims more than 50 percent support, is pushing for the island state’s separation from the Federated States of Micronesia that leads to the establishment of Republic of Chuuk — in free association with the United States.

But as far as the U.S. is concerned, there won’t be any such a thing. Advocates of this proposed political status are mistaken, says Robert Riley, the American ambassador to FSM. If sovereignty comes to fruition, Riley warns, Chuuk must brace for its price.

All U.S. funds and social programs would be cut off. Defense and maritime security would be at stake. Free movement of Chuukese citizens within the United States and any of its jurisdictions would see its end. Those living, working or studying in the U.S. and its territories including Guam would be in a “legal limbo.” Eventually, they would be sent back home. “The immigration policy is emblematic of friendship and something we want to continue; however, it has to be codified in the Compact and cannot be done outside of that document,” Riley says in a YouTube video message addressed to the citizens of Chuuk.

All other components of the Compact of Free Association that are currently afforded to Chuuk could go away. “The current Compact is with FSM and does not cover a separate entity. That legal distinction is non-negotiable,” Riley says. “We highly value our relationship with our Chuukeese friends and we want those ties to continue. While the US government takes no position in that vote, it is important that the Chuukese citizens understand that the Compact is unique and is not likely to be repeated.”

The United States has similar political association with Palau and the Marshall Islands — a complex arrangement that is exclusive to these former trust territories. The Compact, Riley says, is a “unique document” produced by unique circumstances that came out of World War II. “It will not be repeated with any other country or any other entity in the world,” he says.

Chuuk is the most populous state of the FSM with 50,000 inhabitants, accounting for almost 50 percent of the nation’s population of 105,000. Most of its people live on Weno Island, the state capital and FSM’s largest city. The FSM — comprising Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap — is formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, a UN Trust Territory under U.S. administration. It became a sovereign nation with its own constitutional government on May 10, 1979. In 1982, it signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States, a treaty that creates an alliance that is characterized by co-dependency.

The Compact provides FSM with annual funding assistance for economic startups and sustainability and grants its citizens visa-free entry to any U.S. jurisdictions. From 1987 through 2003, the FSM received more than $1.5 billion in economic assistance under the original Compact. Chuuk, which has debt levels currently amounting to about $37 million, gets a share of more than 30 percent of the Compact grants. While Compact grants are set to expire in 2023, FSM remains heavily dependent on U.S. aid. It stands to receive $82 million before the Compact grants end.


On Guam, free association with the U.S. is one of the political status options — along with statehood and independence — on the menu for the yet-to-be scheduled self-rule plebiscite. If the “no new Compact” declaration is indeed a blanket policy statement, then it gives free association advocates on Guam something to ponder.


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. “There is a high rate of enlistment by FSM citizens in US military and the US has a commitment to FSM to defend it,” Riley says.

As in the case of other allied jurisdictions, FSM, occasionally, has a love-hate relationship with the United States. On Nov. 19, 2015, the Chuuk delegation to the FSM Congress sponsored a congressional resolution seeking the Compact’s termination. This resolution was similar to the one sponsored by then Sen. Peter Christian in 2011 during the 17th FSM Congress. Christian, now president of FSM, has since had a change of heart, stating recently that FSM “remains committed to its bilateral relations with the United States.” As for Chuuk Independence movement, the FSM president said in an interview with ABC, “There is no possibility that the FSM will break up. Not within my administration.”

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The Chuuk Independence Movement is spearheaded by state officials, who claim the state has not been receiving enough resources from the national government. “Some of the basic elements of the US Compact are satisfactory to Chuuk, but some we would need to revise to try to make them workable for a separate Chuuk entity,” Chuuk Attorney General Sabino Asor said in an interview with ABC. "The independence we are pursuing now would be in the same context as Palau, the Marshalls and the FSM with the US. We still need the US as a major partner, financial and security wise, but at the same time we're looking at the way events are evolving in our part of the region and we don't feel peace.”

Not so fast, Riley says. In his 15-minute video, the ambassador enumerates a list of perks, such as college programs, health care subsidies and emergency assistance among others, that a sovereign Chuuk stands to forfeit. The prospect of extending the treaty’s components to Chuuk is nil and a separate negotiation is out of the question. Either they are in or out. “There is no possibility of a Compact for Chuuk,” he says. “Neither Congress nor the administration is interested in putting together another Compact.”

On Guam, free association with the U.S. is one of the political status options — along with statehood and independence — on the menu for the yet-to-be scheduled self-rule plebiscite. If the “no new Compact” declaration is indeed a blanket policy statement, then it gives free association advocates on Guam something to ponder.


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