Australia affirms support of FSM in high level bi-partisan visit

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

June 5, 2018

 MG 9963Pohnpei, FSM—This week a high level bi-partisan delegation from Australia paid visits to the Micronesian sovereign nations in the North Pacific including the FSM.  The delegation consisted of Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator for South Australia and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, and Senator for Queensland and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific Claire Moore.

The visit was facilitated through the hard work of Australian Ambassador to the FSM George Fraser and his staff.

Traveling aboard an Australian Navy jet, the party travelled from Palau to Pohnpei on Monday June 4.  They spent the next morning touring the FSM’s World Heritage Cultural Site, Nan Madol before their motorcade headed to Palikir for bilateral meetings with President Peter M. Christian and his cabinet members.

At an afternoon reception for volunteers from Australian Volunteers International and for Australian scholarship award recipients at Orchid’s Restaurant at Ocean View Senator Wong underscored the importance of the visit.  She said that anyone who follows Australian politics would know that their parliament is a noisy place with many disagreements among the members of the party of power and their opposition.  She said that one thing they agree on is the importance of Pacific Island nations.

 

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President Christian’s Chief of Staff, Leo Falcam said that the visit was to reassure the FSM and the North Pacific nations of Australia’s commitment to a stepped up engagement strategy with some “meat behind it”.  He said during the bilateral meetings there was notable mention of increased engagement in the Pacific region and that the North Pacific is well within their concentration and not forgotten.

Falcam said that one of the shining examples of the positive bilateral relationship between the FSM and Australia is the patrol boat program.  The FSM has the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the Pacific which has been patrolled by three boats provided by the Australian government.

In 2020 Australia will begin delivery of two new boats to replace the three boats that the FSM is currently using.  While there will be one fewer boat, Falcam said that the new ones will have an increased speed, capacity and range.  It is hoped that the patrolling of the FSM’s EEZ will be enhanced by aerial surveillance capabilities though that program is currently in the proposal stage.

 MG 9871“We anxiously await the introduction of the program and look forward to documenting the results within the first one or two years,” Falcam said.

He said that President Christian has previously requested the designation of an honorary consul in Australia.  That request has not gone unheard and was brought up by the Australian delegation during their bilateral meetings.  Falcam said the medium to long range plan is to establish a permanent embassy in Australia and added that it only made sense since Australia was the first to establish an embassy in the FSM and has been in the country since the very beginning.

He said that on the margins of the Micronesian Forum the leaders signed an MOU with Australia to revive the Micronesian Transnational Crime Unit.  FSM and Australia have pledged their vigilance and support for the unit’s function.  He said that two pillars would ensure success: effective training and capacity building; and the establishment of a secure information sharing network.

During their meeting President Christian thanked the Australian leaders for the large part they played in the RAMSI program.  He called it an example of Pacific Island nations pulling together to for a neighbor who needed help to shore up some of its internal unrest; a sign of true cooperative effort throughout the Pacific.

Falcam said that Minister Bishop and Secretary Robert also signed an Australia-FSM aid partnership agreement. MG 9883

He said that Australia has also announced a pilot program for FSM citizens for people to people exchanges.  Under the pilot program, citizens of Pacific Island countries could apply for a three year visa that would allow them to take advantage of a wide variety of educational opportunities and then to work in Australia for a period of time.  He said that the FSM continues to be grateful for ongoing scholarship opportunities for the people of FSM to study in Australia.

“We intend to participate in Australia’s offer for increased capacity training in the area of diplomatic relations,” he said.

Tuesday’s visit concluded with a reception hosted by President Peter Christian.  Early the next morning the delegation continued on to Kwajalein, Ebeye, and Majuro for bilateral meetings there.