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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

China beefs up ties with FSM via science diplomacy

China is seeking to strengthen its ties with the Federated States of Micronesia through science diplomacy.

FSM officials and Chinese diplomats gathered on Jan. 4 aboard China’s research vessel KeXue, marking the first in a series of events to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

“This research vessel is the platform for researchers to address the world’s most pressing marine science issues,” said Prof. Wang Fan, director of Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Oceanology, which operates KeXue.

FSM Foreign Affairs Secretary Robert and Ambassador Huang review the RV KeXue’s log. Photo courtesy of FSM Information Service

“In recent years,” Wang added, “as both the FSM and China have continued to score new progress in economic and social development, and as we go forward with more bilateral exchanges to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, this ship can help us to continue to strengthen our connectivity under the China-Pacific Framework to carry out exchanges in marine science research and ocean protection, aquaculture and cooperation.”

China and FSM established their diplomatic relations on Sept. 11, 1989. The Chinese government first established an embassy in the capital of Palikir in 1990, and deployed its first ambassador in 1991.

Amid China’s diplomatic tug-of-war with Taiwan, the FSM Congress last year vowed to “strictly abide” by the One-China policy.

In bid to seal and expand its growing influence in the region, China has been doling out aid to Pacific island nations. The Lowy Institute last year reported that China has pledged to give $4 billion in aid to a group of Pacific island nations — a significant increase from the $280 million it committed in 2016. “That means it is set to overtake Australia, traditionally the most important giver in the region, to become the Pacific Islands’ biggest source of aid,” the Lowy Institute said.

China is clearly FSM’s alternative financial refuge as it braces for the 2023 termination of U.S. grants under the Compact of Free Association.

FSM is among the recipients of China’s largess and science diplomacy adds another layer to their bilateral relations.

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Chinese officials describe the KeXue, which means “science,” as a “top-of-the-line research ship.”

“It’s very interesting and perhaps fitting that the name of this ship is science. And it’s also fitting that this ship has a very important mandate to study the ocean,” FSM Foreign Affairs Secretary Lorin S. Robert said.

Robert noted the many challenges facing FSM in maximizing the utility of its resources and fisheries “without harming their sustainability and climate change especially is a concern.”

While FSM does not have its own scientists, Robert said, “our islands, our people, our culture—we are the science.”

Chinese ambassador Huang Zheng said talks about extending China’s scientific expertise to FSM began in November last year during a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and FSM President Peter M. Christian.

The two state leaders, Huang said, arrived at a decision to establish “a comprehensive strategic partnership.”

“Why comprehensive, and what does that mean? It means that China will help the FSM more in areas of education, health, culture and science,” Huang said. “We share the same sky, we share the same earth, and we share the same ocean. So, finally we will share the same future.”

In a press release, the FSM Information Service said official guests at the Jan 4 event “were treated to a presentation about Chinese scientific discoveries in areas such as oceanography, marine biology, and marine industries. This was followed by an extensive tour of the ship’s highly advanced, cutting-edge features, and then a series of genuinely heartfelt speeches held in the dining room.”

FSM officials and legislators were joined by Zhang Weitao, deputy chief of Mission for the Chinese Embassy in FSM and Prof. Wang Fan, director of Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Oceanology.


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