Panuelo: FSM seeks continued close ties with US; peaceful, unified Pacific
By Frank Whitman
Even as it renegotiates its Compact of Free Association with the United States and tackles numerous regional problems, the Federated States of Micronesia sees its relationship with the U.S. as a partnership with benefits for both nations, according to President David Panuelo.
“The U.S. regards our country as part of the homeland and we regard ourselves as part of the homeland because of the special treaty that we have called the compact,” Panuelo said.
Panuelo made the remarks as he delivered the Peter Tali Coleman Lecture in Pacific Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26.
The lecture was organized under the banner of the Blue Pacific Future, a collaborative project between the Georgetown University Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies, and the Center for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Panuelo was in Washington to attend the meeting of Pacific island leaders at the White House, which, he said, is the first of its kind.
“We are now converging here at the capitol of the United States at the invitation of President Biden,” Panuelo said. “We’re coming together and seeking ways of working with the U.S. as a major superpower. In our Pacific region, I always say ‘It’s most harmonious and peaceful, and we want to keep it that way.’ So, the outcome of this meeting will be tremendous in my view.”
Among the topics Panuelo said he expects to be discussed at the White House meetings are human-centered development, climate change, geopolitical security of the Pacific region and the global community, commerce and industry, and trade ties. The topics were agreed upon among the Pacific leaders, he said. He spoke about the challenges and his efforts in a number of areas.
“The hallmark of the FSM’s foreign policy is that we are friends to all and an enemy to none,” Panuelo said. However, he expressed concern over the China-Solomon Islands proposed security agreement and noted the rising tensions in the region.
“In light of the growing competition between the superpowers, future confrontation between major powers could thrust the FSM and the Pacific region as a whole into the epicenter of war,” he said.
Under the compact, the nation delegated some of the responsibilities for its defense to the United States. “Any attack on our homeland is going to be considered an attack on the United States,” he said.
Due to their sovereignty over so much of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Palau, the freely associated states – FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands – along with the U.S. territories are able to deny access to its waters to bad actors, if need be. “We are playing our part in providing that forward-looking collaboration between the United States and our countries,” Panuelo said.
Also due to their sovereignty, the FAS are valuable and reliable allies in such bodies as the United Nations, where their votes count as much as those of any other member.
Panuelo outlined the importance of the Pacific Islands Forum and recounted the recent walkout and its resolution, which resulted in more shared leadership and administrative roles for the PIF members in the northern Pacific.
“The wisdom of Pacific leaders got us together and we negotiated a deal which resulted in the Suva Agreement,” he said. “We are implementing these reforms in good faith to strengthen unity among the Pacific nations as one family.”
He also spoke about the PIF’s “2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent” and its significance. The strategy, drawn up by PIF members, “is the road map with the foundation for the Pacific countries and territories to collectively support each other, especially during challenging times like Covid; challenging times like when the superpowers come in and their interests are not aligned with our interest. We have to stick together,” he said. “A vital characteristic of the strategy is the dispute resolution in our own unique Pacific way, reaching and building a consensus, respecting sovereignty and the principle of noninterference in our national affairs.”
Panuelo noted the assistance the U.S. provided to the FSM in the effort to protect FSM citizens from Covid-19. The country was one of the last to be hit by Covid, and when it came, the number of infections spiked and then plateaued, he said. “We were so prepared that we fared pretty well in our country without losing lives of the few citizens that we have,” he said. “So, thanks to the United States for the tremendous contribution.”
Another serious concern is Japan’s decision to release nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear reactor into the Pacific Ocean in March and April. “It must be fully informed by science,” he said. “I could not in good conscience allow for this to happen.”
He brought the matter up to the secretary-general of the UN and they are planning to send a high-level delegation to the prime minister of Japan.
“As a region, we affirm our determination for a region free of environmental pollution by radioactive waste and other radioactive matter as expressed by the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty,” he said. “Nobody has a right to contaminate our neighboring ocean. It’s a transboundary issue and it’s transgenerational when you talk about waste and cancer and contamination.”