United States President Joe Biden’s top diplomat, Joseph Yun’s visit to Micronesia is definitely raising eyebrows however this move explains America’s renewed and perhaps genuine change of attitude when dealing with the Pacific.
This is the first time the US are present in person in the islands to discuss deals which have previously required representatives from the islands to travel to Washington.
Mr Yun’s role is US Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations, a newly made position in the Biden administration to negotiate the amendments of the Compact of Free Association (COFA).
Mr Yun arrived in the Federated States of Micronesia this week to hold talks with President David Panuelo.
A high level delegation has never gone to the islands to discuss matters lined with COFA before.
In May, Mr Panuelo made a trip to Washington to present his proposal and this trip looks to be the one to seal the deal.
Coinciding with Mr Yun’s visit is that of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Lambert to Fiji and New Zealand.
“We have a presidential envoy Joseph Yun, who has been in negotiations for renewing the Compact of Free Association with Palau, Micronesia and Marshall Islands,” Mr Lambert stated in Fiji.
“This is an arrangement under which we provide a number of services including postal services and other things. Joe (Yun) has been in deep negotiations with those three countries. Things seem to be moving along.
“I look forward to talking to Joe when I get back to Washington, and finding progress on another big negotiation that is underway. My colleagues from Washington are also in negotiations with key countries in the Pacific on what we call the 23.”
Although there has not been much revealed about what the 23 is, it is believed to be a massive undertaking that would look at fisheries, tuna stocks and aiding in curbing illegal fishing.
FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands have been affiliated with the US since the United Nations made them part of the US governed Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947.
They achieved full sovereignty in 1986, when the U.S. Congress ratified the COFA, providing the FAS with economic benefits and visa-free entry to any U.S. jurisdiction in exchange for full international defense authority and responsibilities.
The initial terms ran to 2003, followed by an amended agreement guaranteeing permanent financial assistance through to 2023.
Negotiations to extend the compacts became stalled in December 2020. In February 2022, Marshall Islands’ Ambassador to the United States, Gerald Zackios, attributed the impasse to Washington’s failure to appoint a negotiator empowered by the president to discuss key issues beyond economic assistance, including remuneration for the legacy of nuclear testing on the islands, the continuing presence of US military bases and the ballistic missile test site at Kwajalein Atoll, and climate-change mitigation.
Citing the critical nature of these complex negotiations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the creation of the position of Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations on March 22, 2022.