As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) presided over the first oversight hearing concerning US foreign policies in the Pacific Region. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mr. Glyn Davies, testified on behalf of the Administration and the Department of State, at the hearing which was held on March 15, 2007.
In his opening statement, Chairman Faleomavaega stated, “The Pacific Island nations have been strong allies of the US, but it seems we have so quickly forgotten the sacrifices they made for us, especially as many of them fought for us during WWII. For example, after detonating some 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands during the 1950’s and 60’s, the US has still not properly compensated, let alone provided adequate medical care and treatment for the several hundred or more Marshallese men, women, and children who were severely exposed to nuclear radiation. That the US has failed to act responsibly is an embarrassment and a shame.”
“What is even worse is the non-presence of USAID in the Pacific Region. I do not mean that the presence of an agency like USAID is going to be a cure-all for the problems the region faces, but this important division of the State Department can serve as a facilitator to resources that are available that can meet the specific needs of island nations,” Faleomavaega said.
Faleomavaega added, “I note with interest that in his statement before the Subcommittee, Secretary Davies expressed concern that the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan are engaged in ‘checkbook diplomacy’ to obtain favors from our island nations. I find it hard to believe that this Administration is accusing China and Taiwan of checkbook diplomacy while our own government transferred billions of dollars in cash for distribution to the Iraqi people as part of our national policy that has now created a terrible mess in that region of the world.”
“I want to commend the people and leaders of China for providing real, substantive assistance to the island nations of the Pacific. In his meeting in April last year with the island nation leaders, Chinese Premier Wen Jibao announced that his nation will establish about a $400 million trust fund whereby Pacific island nations can obtain low interest loans to develop their agricultural, fishery, tourism, telecommunication and aviation needs. China will also be offering training opportunities for some 2,000 qualified persons from among island nations,” Faleomavaega said.
“I am saddened by the fact that US foreign policy in the Pacific continues to be well known throughout the region as one of ‘benign neglect.’ For too long, our basic policy in the Pacific is actually only with Australia and New Zealand, and only after consultations with these two nations do we then just simply follow their lead without direct consultations with the leaders of Pacific island nations.”
“While I am glad that the East-West Center has taken the lead to invite leaders of government from the island nations to come to Washington DC, and while I’m not yet clear if our State Department is involved, my only suggestion to these leaders of government is for them not to come to Washington if our President can not find the time to meet with them. I would respectfully suggest to the Administration that these leaders are not as backward as some may think, and if it was possible for the Premier of China, the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of France to find time for them to officially host these island leaders for serious meetings, then I cannot see how our country could do otherwise.”
“Frankly, I believe it is time for the US to do right by our long-time allies and, as a Pacific Islander, I hope the US will act soon to recognize those they have too long marginalized,” Faleomavaega concluded.