If there is any plan to bring military presence on Yap, Gov. Henry Falan would welcome it with open arms. “After all,” he said, “the Compact of Free Association gives the U.S. the exclusive right to provide military power over this entire area that is regarded as having strategic value. The U.S. military does not need my permission or anyone else’s permission to build a post on any of these islands.”
Yap is a state of the Federated States of Micronesia, which is freely associated with the United States, an arrangement that comes with perks on both sides. Like every island nation in the Pacific islands region, FSM is emerging as an important component of the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific strategy amid China’s relentless campaign to expand its clout in this part of the world.
While FSM has been a friend both to the U.S. and China, Falan does not hide his lack of fondness for Beijing. He is not coy about his reluctance to accept aid from China, preferring to be assisted by Japan instead.
“Personally, and in my role as governor, I feel strongly that democracy is still the very best form of government in the world. America has given us the freedom and opportunity needed to decide and pursue our own course,” Falan said.
Two former military officials recommended that the U.S. military expand its footprint in the region to create a more distributed force posture and allow greater flexibility across a range of scenarios and political-military challenges, according to two former defense officials.
“This will involve building facilities in key Pacific islands like Yap, Palau, and Tinian while transforming existing airfields in northern Australia and across Japan into resilient hubs to support distributed and unpredictable military operations,” reads an op-ed piece published by Defense One, and written by Eric Sayers, former special assistant to the commander at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Abraham M. Denmark, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia.
“As governor, I would welcome the U.S. military to establish a presence in Yap. It would be good for our economy and for our infrastructure among other things,” Falan said.
However, he acknowledged potential resistance. “Alternatively, if the military were to establish a post on Yap, there are those who would be nervous about the possibility of being a target if a war broke out. We sustained heavy losses at the end of World War II and that is still in the minds of many people,” he said. “Now we hear about the conflict in the China Sea and the saber-rattling between the U.S., North Korea and China.”
But it’s nothing to worry about, Falan said, noting the U.S. is a strong partner.
“They have brought freedom and opportunity to all of us and that is worth everything, in my opinion,” he said. “Even if we encounter any unanticipated drawback, we as responsible adults would embrace the fundamental and preponderant responsibility to rectify the situation.”
The governor dropped hints at his displeasure over the state leaders’ support of Chinese development on the island.
“One thing I don’t understand at all is how so many of our best and brightest who received scholarships to attend college in the U.S., then worked in the mainland or Hawaii for several years before returning to Yap, and are now working in our government, are turning toward other regimes that are not free societies and do not support human rights,” he said. “I do not understand how they can believe that selling out to those destructive forces is the right path for our people.”
The U.S. military’s protection of democracy, Falan said, “will ensure Yap’s sustainable future, including its culture and traditions, for generations to come.”
But whether or not his opinion as a local leader matters is another story, the governor said. “Too many in government are unwilling to take the responsibility for ideas and actions at the local level, the mentality which has resulted in economic anxiety,” he said. “Local government officials are afraid of the consequences if they fail. It’s safe to have someone else to hide behind and use as an excuse. This must change dynamically.”
Falan expects more potential benefits from the U.S. military presence than what the state is receiving now. “We have been working with the military for some time now to upgrade our runway,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Authority’s airport improvement program provides $33.5 million in total funding for the infrastructure project. “I am hopeful that it will be completed during my administration and become the basis for a stronger military presence during and long after its completion,” Falan said.
However, the governor expressed frustration with progress in U.S. government’s initiatives. “So until I see some real action, boots on the ground, as they say, it’s just talk. And that’s frustrating,” he said. “I would like to tell them, whatever they want to do, to just do it!”