By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
US, FSM gear up for 'high-level' defense talks in Hawaii
Panuelo seeks Biden's active involvement in the Pacific Islands region
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo will meet with American officials in Hawaii to discuss regional security and defense strategies in the Indo-Pacific area amid growing threats from China.
The FSM government said the “high-level defense talks,” which it considers “crucial for ensuring the nation’s security,” will be held at the Indo-Pacific Command headquarters. However, it did not provide details of the meeting.
According to a press release from the FSM government, Panuelo plans to invite U.S. President Joe Biden to open the next in-person gathering of the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders (PICL), which he said will provide the U.S. leader the opportunity to engage the region.
A sovereign nation in free association with the United States, FSM is considered to be a strategically important part of the U.S. strategy to shut off China's expansion attempts and revive neglected relationships across a broad swath of the Pacific.
Last year, the U.S. and FSM opened negotiations on renewing the expiring key provisions of Compacts of Free Association, which provides for U.S. economic assistance and defense of Micronesia in exchange for U.S. military's operating rights in the Pacific nation.
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Meanwhile, China is seeking to nourish its diplomatic ties with FSM—as well as other island countries— by splashing generous largess through the belt and road initiative.
Panuelo said Biden can directly address regional leaders at the yet-to-be-scheduled PICL meeting, chaired by FSM. The last meeting was virtually held on July 2.
“It will be important for the FSM and the United States, for President Biden to open the next [PICL]—which, with 20 members, is both numerically larger than the Pacific Island Forum, and covers a larger area of the planet,” Panuelo said.
“This is a means of showing genuine U.S. involvement and inclusiveness in the Pacific, and that whether you are a sovereign country, a territory, or a U.S. state, if you are in the Pacific then you matter, and together we can preserve a rules-based international order, and collaborate for our mutual development to ensure the Indo-Pacific strategy of a free and open Indo-Pacific is a sustainable and successful reality for us all,” Panuelo added.
In December 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military held talks with the FSM about opening new naval facilities and expanding an airport runway.