Report: US can easily outmove China by strength of its ties with Compact states
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Despite China’s accelerated move to set foot in the Pacific islands region, the United States has an upper hand in the tilt at dominance by virtue of its “unique relationship” with Micronesian states, according to a report released Tuesday by a Washington-based think tank.
The U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington’s Compacts of Free Association with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—collectively known as “freely associated states”—render the U.S. “a valuable strategic advantage” in the Pacific islands region.
“As China seeks to expand its influence into the Indo-Pacific and develop into a great maritime power capable of force projection far beyond Asian littoral waters, the United States should seek to leverage its relationships with the FAS to meet rising Chinese assertiveness,” the USIP stated in its report.
The independent institute, formed by the U.S. Congress in 1984, noted that the ongoing compact negotiations offer “an important opportunity” for Washington “to strengthen its bilateral ties” and “demonstrate a commitment to addressing their core interests to further U.S.'s national interests and peace and security across the region.”
The U.S. and FAS are separately negotiating the economic provisions of the compacts, which will expire in 2023 for the FSM and the Marshall Islands, and 2024 for Palau.
“The compact relationships are rooted not only in shared respect and deep cultural and economic ties between the FAS and United States but also in mutually recognized benefits and obligations,” the report said.
“As Beijing seeks to expand its influence among Pacific nations, strengthening the U.S.-FAS relationship will be essential to securing U.S. interests in the region,” the USIP said.
While the U.S.-FAS relationship provides substantial benefits to the U.S., the report said the diplomatic platform has the potential to deliver far more.
The USIP noted that despite the small landmass, the FAS plays an important role in U.S. defense planning, force posture, maritime operations, and power projection in the Indo-Pacific region.
"The vast FAS territorial seas, which span much of the northern Pacific, are an important strategic buffer between U.S. defense assets in Guam and Hawaii and East Asian littoral waters," the report said.
"The U.S. right of strategic denial in the FAS territorial seas knits together U.S. forward presence in the region and functions as a beachhead for U.S. engagement with other Pacific nations," the report added.
China considers the Pacific island nations as a low-investment with high-reward opportunity “to score both symbolic and tactical victories in its global agenda.”
Over the past several years, China has increased its diplomatic and economic engagement in the region, taking advantage of the west’s neglect.
In April, Beijing secretly signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, forming a security partnership that observers said could clear the path for a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific country.
China did not stop in the Solomons. It continued its drive in the following months.
In May and June, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled to the Pacific islands to propose a sweeping security and economic pact that affirmed Beijing’s regional ambitions.
China, however, withdrew the proposal after it was shunned by most Pacific island countries.
“As Beijing seeks to develop a true-blue water navy (one capable of operating globally), the U.S. right of strategic denial in FAS territorial seas and the forward presence enabled by U.S. defense facilities in and adjacent to FAS territories will grow more important in constraining China’s force projection and maintaining free and open maritime corridors in the Indo-Pacific,” the report said.