The Pacific island nation of Micronesia picked Wesley W. Simina as its new president Thursday in a changing of the guard from a predecessor who had warmed up to Taiwan.
Nikkei reports that the nation’s congress elected Simina to replace David Panuelo, whose four-year term ended. Simina, who first won his congressional seat in 2011, had served as speaker since 2015.
Panuelo has been known as one of Micronesia’s leading critics of the growing Chinese presence in the Pacific. With a population of only about 110,000 people, Micronesia is being courted both by the China and the U.S in a contest for influence in the region.
Micronesia has formal diplomatic relations with China while relying on the U.S for defence.
Palau and the Marshall Islands have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and Panuelo had signaled that he would join them. He and Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu met in February, discussing possible economic aid if Micronesia were to switch to Taiwan.
Simina, who studied law in the U.S, has taken a different stance. In April, then-Speaker Simina spearheaded the adoption of a congressional resolution reaffirming the “One China” policy.
Gonzaga Puas, CEO at the Micronesian Institute for Research and Development, said it was “a common practice that [Micronesia] can engage with Taiwan economically, but not politically.”
Puas said the new president would value the long-standing One China policy — unlike Panuelo, who was trying to switch to Taiwan by getting rid of the policy.
Just four of the Pacific Islands Forum’s 18 members have diplomatic relations with Taiwan: Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru. Kiribati and the Solomon Islands switched from Taiwan to China in 2019.
Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands are in so-called Compacts of Free Association with the U.S, governing security arrangements.
Micronesia and the U.S seek to renew their compact by the end of May, and more American assistance is expected to be forthcoming.
Panuelo expanded military cooperation with the U.S American military personnel have reportedly become a more prominent presence in certain Micronesian states. Simina has expressed an intent to continue military cooperation with the U.S and is expected to meet with President Joe Biden this month when Biden visits Papua New Guinea.