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Welcoming the FSM to Beijing: The US has a lot of learn

President Wesley Simina leads a large FSM delegation to China during a state visit from April 5 to 12, 2024. Photo courtesy of FSMIS

These Islands By Robert A. Underwood

 The 15-member delegation of the Federated States of Micronesia visiting China last month has set off a lot of conversations and speculations if not international media attention.

The size of the delegation and the fact that there were four cabinet members in that group in addition to President Wesley Simina certainly dramatizes the level of involvement from the FSM side.

The Chinese red carpet was rolled out and the FSM delegation was afforded every courtesy as well as meetings with top-level officials.

The highlight of the visit was the April 9 meeting at the Great Hall of the People between President Simina and President Xi Jinping. Their spouses were also included in the formalities and the visiting Micronesian delegation was provided with a group of young people waving FSM and China flags as well as military units impressive in their formal uniforms. Among the young people were students from the FSM attending Chinese universities.

This level of attention contrasts with the almost anti-climactic passing of legislation funding the Compact of Free Association agreements signed last year.


 President Biden signed this legislation in March which included many other items. Not much pomp or ceremony was associated with signing the bill. There wasn’t all that much for the signing of the COFA funding agreements last year either.

Simina was able to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

It is an unfair comparison but it is instructive. The level of attention given to FSM leaders in Beijing contrasts dramatically with any visit by FSM leaders in Washington D.C. Beijing greets the visitors at the airport, traffic is stopped, the host houses many of them in the State House of China and attends to every need.

FSM interest in various provinces inside China (like Guangzhou) are facilitated. There appears to be “authentic” state-to-state treatment. One experienced diplomat from Micronesia told me that the United States has a lot to learn, a lot to catch up.

In April, President Ji Xi made a $14 million commitment to projects inside the FSM. This is insignificant compared to the activities and assistance guaranteed to the FSM in March under the COFA funding arrangements.

But the Chinese know how to get a bigger bang for their buck. The projects will be highly visible with plaques memorializing FSM-China friendship and cooperation.


Some of the children of the FSM officials are attending universities in China and some graduates from these scholarships are starting to work at various ministries in the FSM. The current level of cooperation between the two countries is influenced by this program of higher education assistance, which produces Mandarin-speaking and China-understanding young professionals who will end up back in the FSM.

The April visit ended with the signing of 10 MOU’s and a joint statement of principles which have been agreed to. These may not be as complicated or as far-reaching as existing COFA arrangements, but they mean something. The FSM has not only agreed that there is only One China, but opposes Taiwan independence in “all forms” and supports “China’s position on issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjang, Xiyang, etc.”

This seems very strong and the “etc.” part seems troubling since it doesn’t specify a particular issue.

At the end of the day, it may all be just a perfunctory statement necessary to secure continued funding for projects. After all, the FSM is not a leader in international diplomacy. But it is an independent nation and its position is being tallied in the international scoreboard. Score one more for China by the FSM agreeing to join in the three-pillared “global initiatives in development, security and civilization.” These speak of mutual development, non-interference and aspiration rather than coercion.


But the independent nation of the FSM has historically agreed to let the U.S. deny military entry to any other nation. It isn’t easy being a small nation with COFA status.

In an article published in The Diplomat, Richard Clark chided President Simina’s visit to China. Clark, formerly the press secretary for former President David Panuelo, points out that Simina failed to understand the distinction between the one China policy and the one China principle. He also criticizes Simina for agreeing to a statement to monitor nuclear waste from submarines from AUKUS and for him not correcting President Xi on where the Austronesian languages began.

Apparently, all roads lead back to Taiwan. Ji Xi said the languages originated from Fujian Province. The languages (which include Chuukese, CHamoru and nearly all Pacific island languages) actually came from Taiwan before the Han Chinese moved there. Simina missed the opportunity to correct him.    Why would he then correct Ji Xi on the principle versus policy dichotomy regarding China’s hold over Taiwan? This political definition came later than the earlier linguistic developments.

Dr. Robert Underwood is the former president of the University of Guam and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Send feedback to


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