China Could Win As U.S. Spars With Marshall Islands Over Nuke Damage
For decades, the tiny Marshall Islands has been a stalwart American ally. Its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has made it a key strategic outpost for the US military.
Photo Insert: The Marshall Islands
But that loyalty is being tested amid a dispute with Washington over the terms of its “Compact of Free Association” agreement, which expires soon.
The US is refusing to engage the Marshallese on claims for environmental and health damage caused by dozens of nuclear tests it carried out in the 1940s and ’50s, including a huge thermonuclear blast on Bikini Atoll, Matthew Lee and Nick Perry reported for the Associated Press (AP).
The dispute has some US lawmakers worried that China might be willing to step into the breach, adding to a bruising competition for geopolitical dominance between the two superpowers.
Since World War II, the US has treated the Marshall Islands, along with Micronesia and Palau, much like territories. On the Marshall Islands, the US has developed military, intelligence, and aerospace facilities in a region where China is particularly active. In turn, US money and jobs have benefited the Marshall Islands’ economy.
And many Marshallese have taken advantage of their ability to live and work in the US, moving in the thousands to Arkansas, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.
But this month, 10 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, about the US compact talks with the Marshalls, Micronesia, and Palau.
“It is distressing that these negotiations do not appear to be a priority — there have been no formal meetings since this Administration began — even as our international focus continues shifting to the Indo-Pacific,” they wrote.
The lawmakers said the delays were putting the US in a weaker position, and “China is all too ready to step in and provide the desperately needed infrastructure and climate resiliency investment that is sought by these long-time partners.”