Another day, another soft power contest in the Pacific. A new East Asia Forum report acquaints us with the scattered islands of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and their strategically crucial 2.5 million square kilometers of ocean:
It is an area near critical sea lines of communication and is located directly in the so-called ‘Second Island Chain’ from mainland Asia, close to all the major East and Southeast Asian Powers. And these waters are very rich too, containing abundant fish stocks that could help feed China’s enormous population. For these two reasons the FSM is commanding the attention and money of both China and the US.
The U.S. currently has a deal with Micronesia, trading claims on Micronesian waters for millions of dollars in American investment. But this compact runs out in 2023, and the Chinese are already courting the FSM with a rainy day trust fund and massive development plans of their own to boost the islands’ tourism industry. Come 2023, things might get prickly:
[G]iven the FSM’s geo-political situation between China and the US, China’s ever increasing defence budget, and the proximity of these islands and their territorial waters to US military installations in Guam and the Kwajalein Atoll, there is reason to fear that something that started as mutually beneficial will devolve into something that is mutually detrimental.
As the Game of Thrones moves into its new phase, China is beginning to formulate a response to American initiatives in the region. The past 12 months have seen America build a quiet but sturdy understanding among states along the Chinese perimeter from India to South Korea. The Chinese, however, are well aware of these efforts, and are responding with initiatives of their own.From Vietnam to the Philippines, the waters of the eastern Pacific are witnessing a new era of great-power conflict and alliance building. For the microstates that dot the expanse of the Pacific, this is good news. They are about to be courted some very big, very rich friends. Count on them looking for ways to say yes to, and collect from, both of their gentlemen callers. This is a bidding war Micronesia hopes will go on forever, but it is one that neither the US nor China can afford to ignore.