U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kolonia last week. Photo: POOL/AFP/File
politics

WWII Pacific battlegrounds now site of U.S.-China tug-of-war

14 Comments
By Giff Johnson

Pacific islands that were key World War II battlegrounds but largely neglected for the past 30 years are now back in the spotlight as China challenges traditional U.S. supremacy in the region.

Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, whose territories stretch thousands of kilometers across the Pacific, have been the recipients of largesse by Washington, Tokyo and other allied powers, but otherwise mostly ignored in recent decades.

However, increasing competition between China and the U.S. has dramatically altered the landscape, elevating the island nations beyond even their Cold War visibility when they were the site of strategic outposts and 1950s atom bomb tests.

In recent years Washington's attention was focused elsewhere and U.S. funding grants to the three nations were slated to end in 2023.

China was quick to spot the opportunity to woo new diplomatic allies and look for strategic advantage in the vast region, analysts said.

"Reductions in development assistance, and redirections as to where that assistance is given have created a vacuum which China has been able to fill, particularly in addressing stated needs of Pacific island countries in relation to infrastructure," said Pacific politics specialist Tess Newton Cain, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

Washington and its allies have only recently woken up to the challenge, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono making unprecedented visits to the region, taking their checkbooks with them.

"Recognition of the strategic value of the three north Pacific nations has re-emerged given the tensions between China and the United States and its allies," said David Hanlon, a retired University of Hawaii professor of Pacific Islands, Micronesia and ethnographic history.

"The recent increase in Chinese commercial activity, diplomatic initiatives, territorial disputes, and expansionist ambitions -- real or imagined -- in the larger Asia-Pacific region have challenged the notion of the Pacific as an American lake."

In a sign that Washington is looking to re-engage with the region, Pompeo announced the start of negotiations with the three island nations to extend the U.S. funding grants due to end in 2023.

Japan's Kono has also unveiled multi-million dollar support for a hospital ship, disaster management centers, a new water reservoir for the Marshalls along with fisheries and maritime enforcement support.

Japan wants to "increase support to countries in the region for a free and open Indo-Pacific," Kono said as he wrapped up a four-nation swing that also took in Fiji.

Pompeo's funding announcement came two weeks after China deposited $2.0 million into Micronesia's trust fund -- a fund the U.S. had said only the previous week was unlikely to produce sufficient interest to maintain the Micronesian government's financial stability.

Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have treaties with Washington known as Compacts of Free Association.

The soon-expiring funding agreements under these treaties were established to capitalise trust funds in an effort to wean the islands off direct US federal funding after decades of largesse from Washington.

Pompeo however confirmed the United States would not allow a financial opening for China in the US-affiliated islands.

"We want to help nations of the Indo-Pacific to continue their decades' long rise and maintain their sovereignty both in the political and economic spheres," he said as he announced discussions to extend the U.S. funding beyond its long-planned end in 2023.

Tokyo's pledge of increased aid to the Pacific also reflects the fact "this region is gaining importance more than ever", said Naoaki Kamoshida, an assistant press secretary for Japan's foreign ministry.

And Japan would work with any country that "shares our values and vision".

The U.S. move to extend funding "indicates the leverage that diplomatic tensions have provided the three Pacific states", Hanlon said.

And Cain said it was evident Washington wanted to reassert itself with the three states with support from key allies.

"Part of the rhetoric around this is to stress that the U.S. and Japan, along with Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand, are democratic countries who share key values with the countries of the Pacific," she said.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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Wouldn't worry too much about these places. In a few years, with global warming, they'll be under the ocean anyway!

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Wouldn't worry too much about these places. In a few years, with global warming, they'll be under the ocean anyway!

That’s right. The writing is on the wall for these low lying island nations. After Gore’s prediction that the Arctic ice cap would disappear by 2013, it’s practically a fait accompli.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

The US is now getting their sweat on since China might step in as Daddy Warbucks after funding might dry up in 2023. America has a long history of ignoring the Pacific.

They pay way too much attention to the Middle East and Europe, but remember, Asia has the three of the top four populous countries and two of the top three economies of the world.

The US better wake up put more serous effort into Asia. They also need much better top level diplomats and strategic planners.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Wouldn't worry too much about these places. In a few years, with global warming, they'll be under the ocean anyway!

That's why China wants to help, it has experience with turning reefs into islands ;-)

3 ( +5 / -2 )

If I remember correctly, historically Japan has been been the biggest donors to this region and have been their biggest trade partners.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The US better wake up put more serous effort into Asia.

Why? Only to have those countries (and anti-US people like you) accuse the U.S. being a imperialist, meddling, interfering, warmongering colonizer? Maybe better for U.S. to exit the region and they can look to China and participate in its "Belt-and-Road" program.

The world sticks its hands out to the U.S. looking for handouts. Then it turns around and bites the hand that feeds and helps them. You can't have it both ways. Either welcome and appreciate U.S. aid and cooperate with the U.S. or look elsewhere.

China is doing what Japan tried to do back in the 1930s, expanding its sphere of influence and dominating the region with its rule of order. Only China is doing it economically.

Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand had better wake up, stop relying on the U.S. and put more serious effort into a similar economic aid program or it will find China in their back yard.....along with military outposts.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

TriringToday 10:20 am JST

If I remember correctly, historically Japan has been been the biggest donors to this region and have been their biggest trade partners.

When it comes to aid in the Pacific, Australia comes first.

Between 2011 to 2017, Australian governments poured at least $US6.5 billion ($8.76 billion) into aid projects across the region. The final figure will likely be even larger because Lowy is still gathering data for 2017.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-09/aid-to-pacific-island-nations/10082702

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand had better wake up, stop relying on the U.S. and put more serious effort into a similar economic aid program or it will find China in their back yard.....along with military outposts.

US aid to the pacific has been a pittance over the last couple of decades. Some seem to think incorrectly that the US has been thre main player in the Pacific when it has actually been Australia, backed up by New Zealand that have been the main players in the region. Australia led the peace keeping force in East Timor and contributed the majority of the equipment and troops. Also the operation the Solomon Islands was handled mainly by Australia.

The US could and should be doing more with China now looking to gain influence in the Pacific. Australia and New Zealand have done a fine job until now but can not compete with China which is much richer than the Aussies.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Whatever country it is that is actually helping these island nations, good for them. Just keep China out!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Agree with Bugle Boy. It doesn't matter whether it's the US, JPN, AUS whatever. The important thing is that prominent democratic nations step up to stop the Chinese dictatorship's expansion plans.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

WolfpackAug. 13  09:33 am JST That’s right. The writing is on the wall for these low lying island nations. After Gore’s prediction that the Arctic ice cap would disappear by 2013, it’s practically a fait accompli.

While it hasn't disappeared, the whole of the Arctic can now me navigated in the summer, Alaskan and Russian permafrost is no longer permanent, Svalbard is now ice free in the summer, and Greenland's melt-off has accelerated. So yes, there are thousands of low-lying islands, along with the coastal regions of a number of areas in the world, that will be uninhabitable in the coming decades.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why does this area belong to the Americans? China has the right to spread its influence. I believe anti-China is based in racism.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Fun fact: Palau, leader of the Micronesian Federation, is one of the few countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation and have a Taiwanese embassy.

A few years ago, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau placed a limit on Chinese tourists (40,000 down from 100,000) citing environmental and infrastructure concerns, and tightened restrictions on Chinese purchases of real estate. The reasons stated were concerns of a Chinese “soft power” takeover and a need to focus on long term sustainability rather than short term economic gain. The same year, Palauan coast guard sunk 3 Chinese coral poaching boats shooting dead some of the crew in the process. Palau is highly committed to protecting its environment and national identity.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Speed: The US better wake up put more serous effort into Asia.

HalwickAug. Why? Only to have those countries (and anti-US people like you) accuse the U.S. being a imperialist, meddling, interfering, warmongering colonizer? 

"And anti-US people like you." Didn't write anything about being anti-US. You don't read or understand things very well. Try to be more careful in your responses.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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