Once again, US empty promises to South Pacific fall flat
Published: Feb 19, 2024 08:34 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The US Senate passed a foreign military aid bill worth $95 billion on February 13, mainly involving substantial assistance to Ukraine and Israel.

However, the promised $2.3 billion in aid to countries under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) was not included.

Upon hearing the news, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the three countries under the COFA, felt greatly disappointed and dissatisfied.

During the Pacific War, the FSM, Palau, and RMI paid a heavy price for US military actions against Japan. After the war, they were under US trusteeship and control of internal affairs and foreign relations until the late 1980s and early 1990s when they gained independence. But they all signed the so-called COFA with the US. The "association" here refers to the close special relationship these countries have had with the US. The US has extensive defense and security access in their sovereign territories and can deploy military forces and equipment there.

In other words, the three countries exchanged their sovereignty over national security for US economic assistance. The "free association" is essentially an unequal relationship where a superpower exploits and erodes the territories and sovereignty of some smaller and weaker countries to seek its geopolitical advantage in the Pacific region, serving its hegemonic strategic objectives.

In fact, in their relationship with the US, these island nations and their people have been used as pawns or even sacrificial lambs. From 1946 to 1958, the US, showing no regard for the local environment or people, conducted as many as 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands. At the same time, the US and some of its allies had been politically motivated to provide aid over the years, such as funding for the so-called institutional and capacity building. The US and its allies are engaged in the wholesale transplantation of Western political systems and governance models, brainwashing local political parties, civil servants, nongovernmental organizations and media with Western ideologies. The ultimate goal is to make these countries ideologically and institutionally subservient to the US and the West.

Meanwhile in recent years, there has been an increasing amount of mutually beneficial cooperation between the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and China. Similar to its treatment of other countries and regions, China fully respects the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of the PICs and does not attach any political conditions to its cooperation with them.

China's assistance and cooperative projects in these island countries have been practical and effective, fundamentally improving local infrastructure and livelihoods and promoting regional economic development. China's assistance has been widely welcomed by local governments and people.

However, in order to contain and even disrupt China's peaceful development, the US has been implementing and vigorously promoting its "Indo-Pacific Strategy," with the South Pacific region becoming an important part of this strategy. The COFA countries are located in the northwest of the South Pacific, adjacent to the South China Sea, and facing China's Taiwan region. Washington clearly hopes to fully utilize its special military relationships with the three above-mentioned countries to turn them into frontline bases for its anti-China strategy.

Last year, as the COFA agreements were about to expire, the Biden administration promised to provide $7.1 billion in aid as bait to renew the agreements. The US' continued massive military aid to Ukraine and Israel has already become strained, and with 2024 being an election year, assistance to the COFA countries has been left out of the plan under the US geopolitical strategy.

The current capabilities of the US are unable to keep up with the pace of its global hegemonic strategy. For some allies and partners, Washington often employs the tactic of making empty promises, using enticement and coercion to bind certain countries to its anti-China bandwagon.

This is not the first time that the commitments to the three COFA countries have fallen through, and it will definitely not be the last. COFA countries and other related countries should also be more aware: Instead of being used as tools of the US hegemonic strategy, it is better to uphold their own sovereignty and dignity in a dignified manner, which is truly beneficial to the long-term interests of these countries.

The author is a professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai and the executive director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn