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Half measures and broken promises





Pacific Reflections By Gabriel McCoard

I’ve noticed a certain rallying cry in American presidential politics over the past few years. Both Democrats and Republicans scream it, at each other, of course. It goes something like this: “The president is incompetent. He doesn’t know how to do anything. And nothing’s getting done! And he’s destroying everything!”


So, which is it, he can’t get anything done, or he’s destroying everything?


In the plight over the Pacific, I’ve noticed a similar cry during the past several months.


China is making too much progress and undermining our influence. It’s making promises. Promises to improve the standard of living. And it can’t keep its promises!


So, which is it? Too much influence peddling or the influence being peddled doesn’t influence?


Welcome to the 21st century, where America offers up ideas without any way for them to become reality, and China makes promises that it can’t keep.


A March 15 article in the South China Morning Post echoes this refrain. A high-level official in the U.S. State Department acknowledged that the powers-that-be were aware that Nauru would be switching allegiance, once more, from Taiwan to China.

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Unfulfilled promises, this official noted, have become a hallmark of Chinese diplomacy in the region, and the U.S. was working closely with Taiwan’s three remaining allies in the Pacific – Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Palau – to make sure their needs are met.


That same article cited a potential $2 billion infrastructure fund to provide an alternative to Chinese developments.


A few years ago, we obsessed over debt-trap diplomacy, developing nations becoming indebted to China for critical infrastructure that they would then default on, thereby losing a national asset to China. Think seaports and airports.


So why wasn’t developing infrastructure a high priority 40 years ago? Safe drinking water and reliable electricity can go a long way to winning hearts and minds.


I know, I’m repeating myself. I can’t help but repeat myself when every month brings a slew of reports about the strategic importance of Pacific island toeholds. Every month there’s more handwringing and proposed half-measures that only benefit the people who are deliberately playing the U.S. and China against each other. Like new embassies that won’t process visas.


Granted, that probably won’t matter since most applicants probably can’t get an American visa to begin with. Similar to the U.S. approach in COFA jurisdictions. Once they write a constitution, society will take care of itself. Laws will pass. Crimes will be prosecuted. An economy will spring forth, alleviating any need for guidance. Domestic expertise will follow. There would be no Compact impact in Guam or Hawaii.


I remember when I attended— as an uninvited guest— the groundbreaking for the new Chuuk State Capitol complex, the one where the flag of Chuuk got caught and was removed during the flag raising leaving only the flag of China. Considering that it was being built with imported labor, a hallmark of Micronesian progress, or non-progress as the case may be, I suppose that was fitting.


The Chinese diplomat who pretended to be friendly said the right things when I referred to American half-measures. He assured me that the U.S. was a very good partner.

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 I’ve heard that the building is already falling apart.


Lest you misunderstand me, my criticism is that the U.S. saw no need to extend soft power coupled with accountability so a country could teach its own children and build its own roads, instead of Sovereigns-in-Name-Only whose leaders’ skimming of the national treasury in the name of self-interest makes Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection look modest.


Fear of Chinese influence and data-gathering are not limited to the Pacific. When it comes to the homeland, U.S. policymakers see anything but broken promises.


Congress and several states are pursuing measures to ban Chinese ownership of farmland, as well as other attempts to block Chinese companies from accessing the U.S. consumer, or more accurately, their information.


The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill requiring that TikTok’s parent company either divest its U.S. services or face an outright ban of the app. Tread carefully. Dancing 15-year-olds are big business.


Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to gabrieljmccoard@hotmail.com.

 


 

 

 

 

 

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