Congress prodded to finalise Compact package for freely associated states

The Indo-Pacific Task Force (Photo: Office of the President Palau)

Defence officials and territorial delegates have pressed both houses of Congress to tie up the proposed new economic packages under the Compacts of Free Association, noting the freely associated states’ critical role in the U.S. strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific region.

“The compact renewal comes at a time of unprecedented U.S. commitment to the Pacific islands,” said Siddharth Mohandas, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia.  

“The most comprehensive challenge we face is coercive and increasingly aggressive effort to change the status quo of the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to align with its interests,” Mohandas said last week, testifying before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The committee sought to evaluate the national security implications of the United States’ compacts with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

The Biden administration has proposed US$7.1 billion in economic packages for the FAS over 20 years. 

The compacts’ economic provisions for the FSM and the Marshall Islands expire on 30 September this year and for Palau, 30 September 2024.

At the U.S House of Representatives, territorial delegates said Washington’s duty to protect the island nations is sealed in the compacts with Palau, the FSM and the Marshall Islands.

“While there is much work that remains to be done before the administration’s proposal is ready, I stand prepared to work with our partners at this time of great importance in the Pacific,” Rep. Gregorio Sablan said at the July 18 oversight hearing held by the Committee on Natural Resources Indo-Pacific Task Force.

“The United States has close and long-standing relationships with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands,” said Sablan, the CNMI’s delegate to Congress. 

“But it would be a mistake to take these relationships for granted, especially at a time when China seeks to dominate the Western Pacific. Congress and the freely associated states must work together to finalise 20-year extensions of our compact agreements and send them to the president for his signature without delay” 

Sablan co-chairs the task force with Rep. Amata Radewagen, American Samoa’s representative to Congress.

Describing the compacts as “a national security and foreign policy success story,” Radewagen said, “The Chinese Communist Party dictatorship has pursued a model in which they challenge U.S. leadership by attempting to leverage the FAS through systematic political warfare, economic disruption, corruption, and coercion.” 

In a press statement, the task force said the U.S. must remain engaged with the FAS “in order to deter China’s influence and to maintain the United States’ capacity to secure its interests.”

At the Senate, Mohandas said the compacts demonstrate the United States’ long-term commitment to Pacific island partners and provide value across priority areas like assured access for bilateral and multilateral training, exercises and force posture.  “The assured access guaranteed by the compact agreements protects the strategic approaches of the United States and allows us to operate freely in critical terrain in the Pacific,” he said.

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