China-funded road project in Pohnpei seals FSM's 'friendship' with Beijing
By Joyce McClure
The Federated States of Micronesia and China have marked the completion of the $14.3 million Beijing-funded road project in Pohnpei, which the communist government claimed was donated with no strings attached.
“Please extend to my dear friend His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of China that Micronesia says thank you,” FSM President David Panuelo said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 17. “We share the same values as China in extending peace, friendship, cooperation, and ‘building a community with a shared future for humankind.’”
With assurance that “our assistance to the FSM is selfless and without political preconditions,” Huang Zheng, Chinese ambassador to the FSM, hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Pohnpei Secondary Road and Kahmar Bridge Project in Pohnpei on June 26, 2019.
The project is now finished and the Sept. 17 ceremony heralded the milestone that involved six sections of roads in Madolenihmw and a new bridge in Nett.
During the initial groundbreaking in 2019, Huang said, “As a Chinese saying goes, ‘if you want to get rich, build your roads first.’ Transportation infrastructure is crucial to the economic and social development of a nation.
The FSM has many favorable natural endowments for its development, however, subject to poor infrastructure, a fair amount of its economic potential cannot be fully tapped.” However, a photo that accompanied the latest press release announcing the completion of the project is of China Rail Construction Corp. workers causing some on Facebook to question if any local workers were employed and whether Pohnpei-based construction firms were subcontracted for the project in light of the ambassador’s avowed support of FSM’s economic development. Other projects on the drawing board are the completion of the forthcoming National Convention Center directly across from the Office of the President in Palikir, and renovations to the Pohnpei State Government Complex.
Huang said these undertakings join “the endless list of practical construction projects funded and constructed by China, such as the Kahmar Bridge and the Chuuk State Government Complex" over the last 32 years since China first arrived in FSM. In addition, a $16 million grant was announced at a May 26 signing ceremony between Huang and FSM Foreign Affairs Secretary Kandhi A. Elieisar for economic and technical cooperation agreements.
These agreements were first proposed by Panuelo and Chinese President Xi Jinping during their historic bilateral engagement in Beijing in December 2019. Panuelo is visiting Kosrae the week of Sept. 10 and plans to discuss how Kosrae will benefit from the recent donation of $16 million for development projects of the nation’s choosing. “The Communist Party of China is a political party that has noble feelings for the world,” Huang said.
"China remains firm in pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace, advocates and actively promotes the building of a community with a shared future for humanity, and contributes by offering Chinese wisdom and solutions to global issues, such as poverty reduction and climate change," he added.
For comparison, according to a Nov. 30, 2020 report by the U.S. Department of the Interior, FSM received over $79 million in compact grants in FY 2020 alone. These grants were earmarked for trust funds, health, education, infrastructure, public sector capacity building, enhanced reporting and accountability, disaster assistance and public sector development. In addition, $37.2 million was granted in July by the U.S. FAA Airport Improvement Fund for the full rehabilitation of Yap State’s airport. “The funding provided under the Compact of Free Association between our two countries shows our enduring commitment to the people of the Federated States of Micronesia,” Carmen Cantor, U.S. ambassador to Micronesia, is quoted as saying in the DOI announcement. “These funds not only support Micronesia's current response to the coronavirus pandemic, but also help build a more stable and prosperous future for all Micronesian citizens.” The U.S. has been a presence in FSM since the end of World War II and is currently negotiating the latest funding amendment to the compact between the two countries.