Guest Perspective: Is China a Threat in the FSM?

Strategically located in the northwest Pacific, the Federated States of Micronesia, (FSM) has been in diplomatic relations with China for more than twenty-five years. However, this relationship has been a subject of political debate between the pro and anti-Chinese forces in the FSM. Critics of China claim that China is using the FSM as part of its moving frontier in the Pacific. This has been refuted by the pro-Chinese observers declaring that the FSM is acting within its own constitutional means which defines FSM’s foreign policy; China is part of such a policy. Moreover, China has brought many benefits to the FSM, and so this relationship remains firm particularly in view of the scaling down of the USA's financial assistance under the Compact. The FSM’s desire is to lessen its dependency on Compact funds; it is actively exploring different avenues to satisfy its economic objectives internationally. Perhaps, the USA is suspicious of China's motive as it perceives China as a growing threat to its security interest in the northwest Pacific. A unilateral decision by the USA to undermine or dislodge China may violate the FSM’s Constitution and relevant international laws.
For the purpose of promoting discussion, I am raising the following questions: firstly, is China a threat in the FSM, and if so, a threat to whose interests? Secondly, how has this perceived threat emerged and does it constitute a real threat? Finally, if China is positioning itself to unleash its influence in the FSM, how is it doing this?
These fundamental questions are conceptually related to the old issue of super power rivalry in the FSM since the dawn of colonization. It further raises the question of whether or not Micronesians are passive bystanders or active participants in the decision making process that affect their own interests in this political equation. Many argue that the FSM considers China not as a threat, but an opportunity to expand the scope of its own international interests. They perceive the threat by China as foreign induced, one which does not sincerely take into account Micronesian perspective. Others perceive China’s growing presence as positive especially in light of its economic assistance to the FSM coupled with its policy of non-interference in FSM’s domestic and international affairs.
China's presence, however, has been under intense scrutiny by critics querying the reason for China’s sudden increased interest in the region. They have speculated that China is positioning itself to confront the US in its own so called territorial domain. China’s intention, according to the critics, is to create a climate of mistrust which is likely to evolve into a new cold war front in the Pacific. This China phobia may be a new phase in FSM politics, but it is reminiscent of the legacy of the cold war period. Not surprisingly the critics continue to claim that China, like its former predecessor, the USSR, is working on completing the global socialist revolution to replace the USA to usher in a new world power. This underlying fear of China is foreign induced. Outside powers have not sought to consider islanders’ perspectives of their relationship with China.
Many Micronesians perceive this antagonism towards China as part of the concerted efforts by the traditional powers to serve their own interests by constantly feeding islanders’ propaganda reinforced by an entrenched system of indoctrination in an attempt to shelter them from engaging in an alternative form of economic system which they claim is not conducive to islanders’ ways of life. In my interview with an official from China, he claimed that China is moving toward a market economy and the growing middle class has evolved albeit via a different route from the US. As China’s Ambassador to the FSM articulated, “China understands that the FSM has a deep relationship with the US, and does not intend to work against that relationship. China has a policy to assist the developing countries in the world and the FSM is one of such countries”.
Additionally, the Ambassador further noted that the China/FSM relationship is consistent with the principle of global cooperation espoused in the FSM Constitution which states:
“We extend to all nations what we seek from each: peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity”.
Zag Puas (PhD)