U.S eyes Yap for regional defence plans

Former President David Panuelo (Photo: FSM government)

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a component of America’s homeland defence and Yap will play a role in the U.S. military repositioning in the region, according to FSM President David Panuelo.

While there are no plans for permanent basing in Yap, the U.S. Department of Defence(DOD) intends to use the state’s airport and seaport facilities for military operations when needed.

“With the approval of and in consultation with the leadership of Yap, the FSM will work with DOD to allow the U.S. to improve the airport and seaport facilities,” Panuelo said during a meeting with state leaders in Yap.

One of the U.S.-bankrolled projects in Yap is the international airport runway rehabilitation. The Federal Aviation Administration has invested US$37 million in the project that consists of removal and resurfacing of the airport’s runway pavement, taxiway, and removal of an earth mound that is obstructing the view between the runway and taxiway.

“(The project) must be mutually beneficial, not just for the U.S. in terms of military repositioning,” Panuelo said.

“We will make sure that the airport and seaport facilities are used for the purpose of international shipping.”

Last year, Panuelo announced plans to accommodate the transit of goods between China, the South Pacific and South America, noting that the FSM is strategically located for air and maritime logistics.

During his 2019 visit to Beijing, Panuelo offered the FSM to become the “economic and commercial hub” for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road–  the sea route part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Panuelo met with the U.S. team led by Admiral John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Carmen Cantor, U.S. Ambassador to the FSM, during high-level defence talks in Hawaii last year.

“The U.S. said the FSM is part of the homeland defence. Any threat or attack on the FSM is considered an attack on the U.S.,” Panuelo said. “It means we are part of the homeland like one of the states or territories of the U.S.”

In a press conference on Guam earlier this month, Rear Admiral Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, said Yap and Palau are among the locations being explored by the military for operational expansion in the region.

“The idea is to improve facilities in Palau and in FSM and to be able to use those facilities, but not necessarily on a 24/7  permanent presence,” Nicholson said. 

These facilities will be used as staging areas when needed, he said.

“It’s very helpful if we have multiple places throughout the region that if a threat materialises, we can shift forces and operate from those areas,” Nicholson said.

He said preparing multiple locations for shifting operations is “much more efficient than having more permanent bases all over the place.”

Getting strategic locations combat-ready, he added, will allow the military to smoothly shift operations depending on where the threat is directed.