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 The consequence of benign neglect

Inside the Reef By Joyce McClure

After decades of benign neglect by the United States, the U.S. embassy in Pohnpei has ramped up its staff and is making a show of involvement in the Federated States of Micronesia in response to the U.S.-China conflict that is brewing on the horizon.

This awakening of the giant has taken place while, according to Western intelligence, President Xi Jinping told the People’s Liberation Army to be prepared to take over Taiwan by 2027, if not sooner. In the meantime, the U.S. military is scrambling to build up its capabilities in Guam, the FSM and Palau, some of which won’t be completed for another five years or more.

Do you think Xi is waiting for the U.S. to announce that moment in the future when all the hammering and nailing in Guam are done and they’re ready to engage? Think again. You have only to see what his emissaries in their embassy in Kolonia are doing to gain loyalty behind the curtain.

The Chinese ambassador and his team are greasing palms to create loyalty among the elected and appointed leaders, constructing cheaply built buildings and roadways that fail almost before they’re completed, donating to the FSM trust fund, and slowly, methodically playing their usual waiting game for the time when China finds the opening it’s been banking on for nearly 40 years.

So how does the U.S. compete with bribes of money, phones, computers, cars, trips and state dinners in a golden palace?

Over at the U.S. Embassy, according to their Kolonia Facebook page, the current crop of embassy personnel are focusing on glad-handing the leaders and citizens of the islands by sponsoring fishing tournaments, attending graduation ceremonies, handing out grants for sustainable agriculture and other projects, publishing grip-n-grin publicity photos with newly appointed directors of various government agencies, staging trips to the other island states, and sending FBI, FSM National Police, and U.S Army representatives to high schools to conduct information sessions about career paths.


The U.S. Coast Guard has also ramped up and is sending patrol boats out to search for illegal or stranded fishing boats and Chinese research vessels intent on getting to the rich, underwater mineral fields first.

Infrastructure projects that were on hold for years and resulted in bridge and road closings in Yap, are finally getting attention, while the airport is also under construction to lengthen the runway for military planes.

The renegotiated COFA financial commitment is posted and being shared around Facebook to let the citizenry know what the next two decades worth of money will buy; it’s payment not just in exchange for military rights, or “security” as it’s called, but a way to keep the FSM indebted as a welfare state. If the U.S. hasn’t lived up to its part of the goal for the FSM to become economically sustainable by now, continuing to glad-hand will not get them any closer to it. But perhaps that’s the real goal.

If I were in a leadership position in the FSM, I’d play both sides against each other, too. After all, why not take those free handouts to enrich myself and my family? Let the Chinese ambassador put money in my pocket, give me a new SUV and build me a nice house, while the U.S. doles out grants to my community. It’s a win-win. For me.

This is all playing out while China is openly flexing its muscles and the U.S. flexes back. In late May, according to a report in The Guardian, China’s defense ministry announced that it was testing its “ability to ‘seize power’” with “mock missile strikes” and “military drills around Taiwan.”

The exercises that took place in five target areas surrounding Taiwan’s main island and other offshore islands included “35 (People’s Liberation Army) navy and coastguard ships and 49 war planes, of which 35 crossed the median line, the de facto border between China and Taiwan.”

This particular muscle flexing was meant to show China’s displeasure with the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te and “inflict punishment for ‘separatist acts.’”  

Make no mistake, this is also a direct warning to the U.S. via Guam and the freely associated states –whether or not they recognize the one-China principle– that Beijing is preparing for war. No amount of U.S. officials’ visits to Beijing will deter them from taking over Taiwan. But China’s pomp and pageantry, bribes and promises of a rosy partnership continue to impress the impressionables from impoverished islands where taro patches are being inundated with sea water.

The United States has assured Taiwan of its support. We can see it in the buildup of military capability to date along with Australia, Japan, England and other U.S. allies.

But —and this is a large but— Reuters’ reported that “interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials found that American military logistics in the Pacific is one of the greatest U.S. vulnerabilities in any potential conflict over Taiwan.”

The citizens of Guam and the FAS will be the losers in the long run while the U.S. diplomats post self-aggrandizing publicity about a fun outing to Nan Madol. If they are engaged, now is the time to report about it. The people of FSM deserve to know what the U.S. is doing concretely to counter China’s diplomatic offerings, not just their feel-good activities posted on social media or head-scratching military-speak in the form of press releases. The U.S. embassy is a mouthpiece for the State Department, not party central. Use it.


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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