COFA Presidents Send Letters to U.S. Senators About Chinese Influence

The Presidents of the Marshall Islands and Palau sent letters to two Congressmen that urged them to pass the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) while highlighting the significance of the agreement to U.S. defense planning. The letter also pointed out how China is using the delay in passing the COFA to gain influence in the two countries.

Letter to U.S. Senator from President of Palau (Photo: X, formally Twitter/@CleoPaskal)

Palau

President Surangel Whipps Jr.’s letter to a U.S. Senator on February 9th outlined the various benefits that the COFA provided to the United States. The most significant benefit Whipps pointed out was that the COFA allows the United States “strategic control of the sea and air between Hawaii and Asia larger than the 48 contiguous United States.” He also referenced how it would cost the United States at least $100 billion USD to militarily replace the COFA if it is not upheld.

Whipps also wrote about the island nation’s close defense relationship with the United States. He specifically mentioned that Palau allowed the United States to station missiles and some of its “earliest warning radars” on some of its islands. He mentioned that a U.S. commander pointed out that islands are “part of the homeland” and have “never been more vital strategically.”

However, Whipps discussed how the delay is allowing China and pro-Beijing Palaian politicians, who have done business with China, to agree to China’s “attractive economic offers” to change alliances. He also said the first step in shifting Palau’s alliances would be to sacrifice Taiwan by severing diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognizing China. The economic deals China offered that the pro-China politicians also pushed included the country offering to “fill every hotel room” and promising to build more resorts if they accepted the agreement. The country also said they will pay $20 million USD per year in exchange for two acres for a “call center.”

Letter to U.S. Senator from President of Marshall Islands (Photo: X, formally Twitter/@CleoPaskal)

Marshall Islands

The President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, also sent a letter to a U.S. Senator on February 13th that echoed Whipps comments made in his letter. Heine pointed out how both the relationship’s creation and renewal involved former U.S. presidents such as Reagan and Trump. She also pointed out how the legislation for the COFA’s renewals has been cleared by both chambers of Congress.

Heine also highlighted how the COFA allowed the United States “strategic control” of an area of air and seaspace that is larger than the 48 continuous United States. She further said that the COFA effectively extended the United States’ border from Hawaii to Asia for “military purposes.” However, the president also spoke about how the Marshall Islands are home to “the world’s premiere range” (the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll). The facilities on Kwajalein allowed the United States to effectively test its inventory of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and military space operations support.

She then wrote about how China used the ‘carrot and stick’ approach in an effort to shift the Marshall Islands’ alliances and relationships. Heine emphasized China’s efforts to have the country switch its recognition from Taiwan to China. She also specifically pointed out how two Chinese individuals attempted to develop one of the country’s atoll municipalities as an autonomous area called the Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region.

Heine said that her opposition to the plan caused the two to bribe some politicians to “topple” her government using the parliament. However, their plan failed, and it resulted in their subsequent conviction by U.S. courts. The president then ended her letter by pointing out that additional delays in passing the COFA “threatens to undermine [their] confidence in the U.S. and encourage some to agree to PRC enticements.”

Analysis

The letters highlight the degree of concern the presidents of the Marshall Islands and Palau have regarding the delays that prevent the COFA renewal from passing. Furthermore, the letter is also to remind Congress of the strategic location the three countries occupy and their deep relationship with the United States. The letters also serve to both remind and warn Congress that China is also aware of the delays and will use both economic coercion and influence operations to make inroads into the countries.

Regarding the Marshall Islands, President Heine prevented an earlier scheme to topple her government led by two Chinese individuals. However, it should be noted that the United States deported the two back to the Marshall Islands after serving their sentences due to them being citizens of the nation. This would likely enable the two individuals to resume being agents of influence for China and reconnect with the Marshallese politicians to conduct new operations in the islands. These operations would consist of bribes given to local Marshallese politicians and other influential people to work towards increasing Chinese influence in the Marshall Islands.

President Whipps outlining how China is using economic incentives in exchange for the country to change alliances is another example. China used the two measures outlined in Whipps’ letter as a way to entice Palau into switching recognition from Taiwan to China so it could establish a diplomatic outpost in the country. The outpost, either in the form of a consulate or embassy, would then be used by China to conduct local influence operations to increase Chinese influence by eroding U.S. influence in the country. These various measures that China takes against the COFA states are designed to entice them to increase relations with China, such as withdrawing from the COFA agreement.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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