Remaining silent is not an option
Why the US is a better partner than China
Yap is a small island in a great expanse of ocean that our ancestors discovered centuries before explorers from some of the world’s wealthiest nations stumbled onto it and claimed it for their own purposes. They often attempted to quash our culture and traditions while planting their flags to assert their sovereignty.
Now, once again, we are in the middle of a tug-of-war between two powerful realms: the United States and China. But there is a distinct difference between these two nations’ interests and intentions.
When we established the Federated States of Micronesia in 1987 after 40 years as a U.S.-administered UN trusteeship, the constitution resulted from dozens of meetings with leaders from distant islands that were joining together to form four states under one flag. U.S. representatives served as counselors as we created a new path toward a democratic nation that would make its own decisions about its future. Referendums allowed the citizens to vote for their choices among those being considered.
It was hard work but we carved out an agreement for, by and of the people that still stands today.
To ensure that future generations will continue to live in a democracy offering opportunity and equality for all, it is imperative that we again engage in open dialogue about what we want for our state and our nation. Only we have the power to ensure that our aspirations of a free and equitable society are sustained.
Opening up that conversation, not just between Yap and the U.S. military but with the citizens of Yap, was my intention when I responded to a journalist’s inquiry about my thoughts on the recent announcements about Palau inviting the U.S. military to establish a base on their shores, and the report that former military officials recommended Palau, Yap and Tinian as strategic positions for US bases.
Some posted their comments to my answer on social media. I value and welcome all responses, positive and negative, from my fellow citizens. Not everyone agrees with me, but the dialogue is a vital component of democracy.
We must be willing to disagree, discuss, negotiate, but most importantly compromise and, respectfully and openly, move toward a future that is in our own best interests and not those of another country intent on their own egocentric ambitions.
But open dialogue is counter to “the Yapese way.” Speaking one’s mind in public is not encouraged and is considered a threat to a peaceful Yapese society.
Everyone must be able to freely, honestly and respectively express themselves without fear of retribution. Free speech is a cornerstone of a democratic society.
Someone once said that leadership is not a position or title, it is action and example. We can no longer blindly trust others, even rightful or self-appointed chiefs, to do what is right for our people. We must speak out even if our beliefs are not the same as those promoted by people in positions of power. The stakes are too high.
A small contingent in Yap has aligned themselves with China despite common knowledge and trustworthy reports of their destructive actions in other countries, including human rights abuses against minorities in their own country and underprivileged citizens in developing countries.
These few seem to believe the promises they are given despite proof to the contrary. China’s proposals are heralded as assurances of future riches for all, but have been shown time and again for what they are – empty, dishonest and only benefiting a select group.
The U.S. is not always the best partner, nor have we been their best partner. But the U.S. promotes and defends our right to freely and without interference make our own decisions and seek our own way forward.
Among the many benefits of our alliance with the U.S. are:
· the right to live, work and study in the U.S. visa-free;
· enlistment in the U.S. military that provides many of our best and brightest with
o career training,
o medical care,
o pensions, and
o other valuable benefits for them and their families;
· over $110 million in economic and program assistance annually;
· federal grants and services for
o public sector programs,
o capacity building,
o private sector development, and
o the environment;
· a jointly managed trust fund; and,
· JEMCO which ensures assistance funds are “focused effectively and properly accounted for,” to foster “good governance and economic self-reliance.”
Since 2020, Yap has received millions of dollars worth of support, medical equipment and training to help us prepare our fragile islands during Covid-19. Not one cent of state money has been used for this initiative.
Add to that the benefits of a potential military presence on Yap:
· tax revenue to support health, welfare and education programs;
· increased job and training opportunities for our citizens;
· income for stores, hotels, restaurants, construction firms and other support services;
· enhanced medical facilities plus more nurses and doctors;
· infrastructure development; and more.
Yap will never be Guam, nor do we want it to be. But we are positioned strategically within the Pacific region to use our assets for mutual advantage without signing away our Yapese soul.
Granted, we have made mistakes. But with open discussions and an examination of contrasting ideas not just between our leaders but between all citizens, old and young, male and female, we can make our democracy work for everyone.
We are masters of our own fate; we can create opportunities for ourselves. We have only to look at the planned state-of-the-art technology center in Colonia for proof. One of our very own native sons had a dream that he is now turning into reality.
No one person is more important than any other; no one idea less important than any other. I call on all citizens of Yap to become active participants in the future of our islands and our people.
If we remain silent and allow the few to act on behalf of the many, we will have only ourselves to blame when our rights and our land are once again taken over by a foreign power without our permission.
Henry S. Falan is the governor of the State of Yap