Pacific News Minute: Pacific Island Leaders In Washington To Meet With President Trump

May 21, 2019

South facade of the White House, Washington DC.
Credit Ad Meskens / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Leaders of three Pacific Island countries are in Washington today to meet with President Donald Trump. Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia operate under Compacts of Free Association with the U.S.

These Second World War battlefields were governed by the U.S. Navy and then the Department of the Interior before they achieved independence. Under free association, the U.S. provides funding and access to government services including FEMA, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. Citizens of freely associated countries can live and work in the U.S. Washington is entirely responsible for defense.

Daniel Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia, Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands and Tommy Remengesau Jr. of Palau are expected to frame their conversation in terms of the Blue Pacific Strategy adopted last year by the Pacific Islands Forum.

The idea is to leverage the collective power of what are usually described as small island states, by recasting them as large ocean states, which control vast swathes of the Pacific.

Last week at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Fiji’s Ambassador Solo Mara said the 16 Pacific Island nations should no longer be regarded as an afterthought to the Trump Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Under the "Blue Pacific" strategy, island states want Washington to emphasize trade, development, the effects of climate change and pollution and environmental enforcement.  

For example, he said, Pacific nations need help to control illegal fishing. “Our resources have been plundered,” he said. Ambassador Mara added that the United States is part of the region, and “should not act as strangers.”