Tuesday, February 08, 2022

The Battle for Friends and Influence in our Own Backyard

You know the Pacific theater of WWII. I'm not going to insult the intelligence of The Front Porch by repeating all the blood we expended to secure our stepping stones to defeat Imperial Japan.

We have warships named after battles, islands, and heroes. Just look at the map above, you all know it.

Since WWII, our victories with our allies secured the peace and established relationships generations ago with those who lived on these islands. Some are territories, others their own nations or commonwealths. 

Have we forgotten their importance? Do we act entitled to their friendship and the access they provide? Are we sending our best people with well crafted policies to ensure that an expanding China does not - with bags of cash in one hand and corruption in the other - weaken our comparative advantage? 

If you think we couldn't screw this up, you're wrong. 

Patricia O'Brien's article at The Diplomat is sobering;

Alarm bells are ringing in Washington, D.C. over ... The drawing up of the future relationships between the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Federated States of Micronesia (Micronesia) and the Republic of Palau (Palau) and the U.S. ... These three nations’ borders cover an immense area of the Pacific Ocean that in the age of acute competition with China is of the highest strategic importance. In addition, Palau and the RMI both host vital military bases. In recent days the Pentagon has announced these nations as possible sites for additional military installations, an eventuality that hinges entirely on the future roadmap of their U.S. relationships.

The reason why there is such alarm in some halls of American power right now is that the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) between the U.S. and these three nations should now be in the advanced stages of renegotiation before they expire in 2023 and 2024 in the case of Palau. Yet there is an unsettling lack of action on this front. In the case of the most complex negotiation, that with the RMI, there have been no formal meetings since December 2020.


In the context of escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, the COFA states have a unique position beyond their paramount strategic importance. Palau and the RMI are two of the last nations that diplomatically recognize the Republic of China government on Taiwan. Micronesia, by contrast, has had diplomatic relations with China since 1989 and has been expanding that relationship in conspicuous ways in recent years, to the point where Micronesia has been recently described as “the next U.S.-China battleground”. Yet Micronesia is widely relegated to the status of COFA partner of least importance in Washington, largely because it does not host military installations or have the nuclear legacy that shapes the U.S. relationship with the RMI. This is a situation that also clearly needs to change.


From every angle, the COFA negotiations are urgently in need of the highest level of attention and remediation. The clock is at one minute to midnight on all the justice, climate, and strategic aspects of U.S. relations with the COFA nations. It is high time to heed the alarms. It is high time to heed the alarms, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recently issued invitation to Pacific leaders to participate in meetings on February 12, when he is in Fiji, may be a sign that the U.S. is starting to do so.

Clearly the US Department of State did not put even the JV on the project. If the boss has to get involved, then so be it. We don't need to have to fight our way back through these islands ... again.

Australia and New Zealand have a play here as well...but they don't seem to be having an easy go of it

China cannot be allowed to degrade this natural advantage cheaply. We don't have to do all that much to set it right along with our allies - including the British and French.

Time to up our game. We have some smart Pacific minds ... we can do this.

We must do this.

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