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Hubris meets gullibility

Inside the Reef By Joyce McClure

Micronesian President Wesley Simina, in his recent interview with the Pacific Island Times, said having a relationship with both the U.S. and China “gives us the opportunity to be a peacekeeper in the region.” His attempt to prove that naïve idea may have been behind his recent back-to-back visits to Washington D.C. and Beijing.

From what I’ve read, enlisting him as a peacekeeper in the escalating friction between the two superpowers was not among the topics discussed.

Hubris ignored.

Closer to home, Yap will hold a referendum on May 31 to ask voters, "Shall the State Commence a Review of its Political Status?" It is assumed that the question is a door-opener to decide whether Yap should secede from the FSM.

The subject of leaving the FSM has come up in Yap periodically over the years but never gained traction. The first referendum in 1978 determined the fates of Trust Territory islands. At the time, discussions on Yap centered on whether it should join Palau or become part of the islands that would become the Federated States.

Gov. Charles Chieng has formed a task force to educate the Yap voters about the purpose of the referendum. He said he has instructed the task force to be “100 percent” neutral and “deliver the factual information necessary for the general public voter to know.” The governor declined to disclose his position lest it affect the referendum result. The goal is to “let them vote ‘their choices’ not ours,” he added.

According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Institute of Peace Senior Study Group, “Some Yapese secessionists believe that it was a mistake for Yap to join the Federated States of Micronesia when the FSM became independent and that Yap should instead have joined Palau on the basis of cultural similarities and geographic proximity.” 

Some local political leaders in the FSM states…have expressed dissatisfaction with the FSM federal government’s funding arrangements, which has helped fuel ongoing discussion about secession,” states the report titled “China’s Influence on the Freely Associated States of the North Pacific.”

In Chuuk, an independence referendum was initially scheduled for 2015 but fizzled out after being postponed repeatedly.


During the discussions, Chuuk’s leaders and citizens floated the idea that the U.S. would form a separate Compact of Free Association with Chuuk. It was shot down by then U.S. Ambassador Robert Riley, who said that free association was a unique, one-time agreement and that the U.S. would not entertain a separate compact with Chuuk or any other entity.

It was well-known at the time that China was pushing for Chuuk’s independence, ready to step in and take over.

Like Chuuk, it is reported that the pro-Chinese contingent on Yap is in favor of secession and supporting the upcoming referendum. Not surprising since China has been attempting to get a toehold on Yap for several years by sending in “developers” aiming to establish resorts and other tourism-based businesses supported with cash gifts, trips and other bribes given to politicians like those reported by former President David Panuelo at the national level prior to his election loss.

So far, China’s proposals have been opposed by Yap citizens. One recent outcome was the turnover in the last election in the Yap State Legislature when pro-Chinese members who decided not to run due to the embarrassment of a potential loss due to their support of China were replaced with anti-Chinese candidates.

If Yap decides to leave the FSM, its options include the possibility of joining with Palau, assuming Palau agrees, or as an independent entity pledging allegiance to China and becoming reliant on their largess. In both cases, Yap would no longer receive the millions of dollars in revenue and benefits provided by COFA and the FSM national government. And the nearly 2,000 Yapese citizens who reside or study in the U.S. would lose their COFA privileges.

Granted, China would undoubtedly step in and make up the revenue slack. They already provide support through educational opportunities and funding for infrastructure, health, agriculture and other projects in FSM.

In an April 4 article in The Guardian, Simina crowed about FSM being “open for U.S. consideration for any kind of defense-related activities, including use of our lands and oceans.”

Simina left the following day for an eight-day state visit to China to “celebrate 35 years of diplomatic relations.”

While there, Simina and his contingent met “the provincial leadership where they discussed deepening the existing special relationships at the local level” through sister-city agreements.

During the pageantry meant to outdo the U.S.’s more business-like style, Beijing’s Great Hall of the People was the site of “an official welcoming ceremony, followed by a bilateral meeting” between Simina and President Xi Jinping. “During the meeting, President Simina acknowledged the many achievements that underpin the nearly 35 years of diplomatic relations between the FSM and China and expressed support to further deepen and continue the FSM-China comprehensive strategic partnership, defined by technical and economic cooperation and rooted in the principles of peaceful coexistence.”

Xi also pledged $14 million to the FSM for future projects.

China welcomes the FSM delegation during a visit to Beijing from Aptil 5 to 12, 2024. Photo courtesy of FSMIS

If FSM leaders were to research what this type of transparent flattery by China has done in other developing countries such as Africa and Tibet, they might reconsider what they are buying into—or, perhaps more appropriately, being paid to do with cash bribes, lavish trips and other empty blandishments and promises. They only have to inspect the failing infrastructure projects that China built with Chinese labor despite a deal to use Micronesian laborers.

The implications of China’s growing investments linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, its ambitious global infrastructure and connectivity program, are increasingly debated,” David O. Shullman writes in a 2019 commentary published by Brookings Institution.

“So, too, are the nature of Chinese Communist Party efforts to popularize its authoritarian model and undermine developing democracies around the world, whether intentionally or indirectly,” states the commentary titled “Protect the Party: China’s Growing Influence in the Developing World.”

Are FSM leaders so swayed by the promise of personal riches or downright naïve that they are willing to sell their souls, reputations, land and citizens to China and its world vision of authoritarianism?

Come May 31, the people of Yap can voice their opinion. Let’s hope they choose the path of democracy and U.S. partnership. There are, after all, people all over the world who are willing to die to have what FSM citizens have – the opportunity to freely live, work and study in the United States while supporting a democratic government and their families back home in Yap.

Joyce McClure is a former senior marketing executive and former Peace Corps volunteer in Yap. Transitioning to freelance writing, she moved to Guam in 2021 and recently relocated back to the mainland. Send feedback to 

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1 Comment

May 08

$14 million does not go very far in this day and age. It would be a sorry exchange.

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