Federated States of Micronesia
Reviews of Kiribati, Nauru, Northern Marianas, and Palau are not included in this issue.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) enjoyed a season of calm during the period under review, certainly in contrast to the tumult of recent years. But in foreign relations, the federation grappled with temperamental and tempestuous regional and international forces, even as it attempted to enhance its stature as a constructive member of the international community.
Two major developments dominated the foreign side of the ledger for the FSM during the period in review: the assumption by the FSM government of the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental grouping of independent and self-governing states in the Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand) whose stated aim is to enhance the economic and social well-being of its members through cooperation between those governments and relevant regional and international agencies (pifs 2017); and an escalation of efforts by the Government of Guam to address the growing number of inmates in Guam prisons from the FSM, including through unprecedented and legally questionable means. In each situation, the FSM attempted to navigate various thorny issues while projecting an aura of authority and independence, with varying degrees of success.
The assumption of the chair of the Forum—a one-year term—was a diplomatic and political coup for the FSM, marking the first-ever chairing of the Forum by the FSM government, but it was nearly derailed before it began. When a Forum member assumes the chair, it typically hosts all other Forum members in its territory for a major annual meeting. The gathering is a significant logistical challenge, where the new chair welcomes not just the Forum members from the Pacific but also "dialogue partners" from around the globe, including the United States, China, and Japan. The FSM was slated to host the forty-seventh meeting of the Forum from 7 to 11 September 2016 in Pohnpei. A few months before the meeting, however, FSM government officials publicly expressed concerns about the logistical capacity of Pohnpei to host the meeting, particularly in terms of lodging. In response, the FSM government asked foreign delegations attending the meeting to limit their delegations to heads of state or heads of government, their spouses, and five support personnel for each delegation—a tall task for Forum members such as Australia and New Zealand, as well as the major dialogue partners, all of which typically bring large delegations and hordes of media personnel to the annual Forum meetings (kp, 23 June 2016).
By the time the Forum meeting [End Page 126] rolled around, the FSM government seemed to have addressed the logistical hassles involved—including by enlisting homestays to accommodate excess participants—and so the government was able to turn its attention to substantive discussions. The meeting's official theme was "Small and Far: Challenges for Growth" (Wyeth 2016). In addressing the theme, the meeting tackled a wide range of regional issues, including fisheries, maritime surveillance, pacer-Plus trade negotiations, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and climate change (fsmis, 19 Sept 2016). On climate change, the smaller, developing members of the Forum banded together to push for a proposal from the Forum to the Green Climate Fund, which is a mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) that finances adaptation and mitigation projects. Stressing the difficulty they experience in accessing the Green Climate Fund and similar funds, these members called on the developed members of the Forum (ie, Australia and New Zealand) to assist them in their efforts to access the funds (rnz 2016a). Additionally, and of more immediate consequence, the Forum Leaders endorsed the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific: An Integrated Approach to Address Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management (frdp). With memories of widespread devastation from Typhoon Maysak and Cyclones Pam and Winston still fresh in the minds of Forum members, the frdp casts climate change and natural disasters as potent development challenges and calls on Forum members to address vulnerabilities to climate change and disasters and to mainstream relevant management approaches throughout their policy making in all sectors, ideally in time for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change (pifu 2016a). The FSM government was already well situated to carry out the frdp, because the FSM had enacted a law in January 2014 that called on all departments and line agencies of the FSM government to incorporate climate change and natural disaster risk management into their annual budgeting and policy making (fsmis, 9 Jan 2014). The adoption of the frdp was an example of the FSM government using its position as chair of the Forum to push for an issue of importance and relevance for the FSM—and whose operationalization would not be a major new burden for the FSM government.
Forum Leaders also adopted the Pohnpei Ocean Statement: A Course to Sustainability. In acknowledgment of the centrality of the ocean to the cultures, identities, and livelihoods of Forum members, the document canvasses various threats to the ocean and to its potential uses for sustainable economic development, including marine pollution; ocean acidification; coral reef degradation; and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. It calls for the enactment and perpetuation of genuine and durable "partnerships for action" in relation to ocean-based sustainable development, as articulated in the samoa Pathway adopted by the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014 (UN Conference on Small Island Developing States 2014). The Pohnpei Ocean Statement also [End Page 127] endorses the convening of an intergovernmental conference to negotiate an international legally binding instrument to regulate the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (eg, the high seas), in order to address major gaps in international ocean governance (pifs 2016b). The FSM has been a major player in the push for such a conference, including in negotiations at the United Nations.
In addition to advocating for the adoption of two major outcome documents, the FSM officially joined the Smaller Island States (sis), a subgroup of Forum members (ie, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, and Tuvalu, in addition to the FSM) established in 2006 to facilitate the provision of technical, logistical, and financial assistance to Forum members characterized by limited development capacities and fragile and vulnerable natural environments (pifs 2016b). FSM President Peter M Christian called the induction of the FSM a "great honour" that the FSM had "wanted for a long time" (Maclellan 2016). With the FSM seated, the sis tackled several critical issues, including the development and broadening of regional air transport options (eg, Air Niugini and Air Nauru service into the FSM) and the crafting of a joint proposal of sis members to the Green Climate Fund, all in accordance with a regional strategy adopted by the sis earlier in 2016 (pifu 2016b).
The Forum meeting was not all smooth sailing, however. The question of how to address the self-determination struggles of the people of West Papua tested the ability of the FSM as Forum chair to corral divergent views and produce a consensus outcome. With various governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the region pushing for broad and sustained involvement of the Forum in the issue, there was general recognition among Forum members that the Forum meeting in Pohnpei had to address the matter in some substantive form (rnz 2016b).
Prior to the holding of the annual Forum meeting, the FSM gave a hint of how it might approach the issue as chair. On 23 August 2016, President Christian received a delegation dispatched by the Government of Solomon Islands to inform him about the Pacific Islands Coalition for West Papua (an initiative spearheaded by the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, the Honorable Manasseh Sogavare), and to invite President Christian to attend the inaugural meeting of the coalition the following week. Solomon Islands has taken the lead in recent years in pushing for international support for the self-determination aspirations of the people of West Papua, as well as for international condemnation of alleged human rights abuses suffered by the people of West Papua (including bodily harm in addition to the stifling of self-determination initiatives) at the hands of the Government of Indonesia, the administering authority in West Papua (Wyeth 2017). Recognizing that reality, President Christian's response to the delegation took two tacks: On the one hand, self-determination should be a matter resolved internally and with the support and involvement of all concerned parties; [End Page 128] but on the other hand, human rights are universal rights that must not be denied to any people, and the international community must not condone human rights abuses. On the latter point, President Christian expressed a willingness to support Forum efforts to work with the United Nations in addressing the alleged human rights abuses suffered by the people of West Papua (fsmis, 9 Aug 2016). How that approach would comport with a preference to resolve the West Papua situation internally was a tension left unresolved by President Christian in his remarks to the delegation. Nevertheless, he set the stage for how the Forum meeting would address the issue of West Papua shortly thereafter.
After extensive discussions on the matter, the Forum Leaders issued a terse consensus statement. The official communiqué from the meeting states that Forum Leaders "recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) should remain on their agenda. [Forum] Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue" (pifs 2016a). The statement is notable for several reasons (other than its terseness): It does not explicitly mention the self-determination aspirations of the people of West Papua, it implicitly affirms Indonesia's authority over the people of West Papua, and it does not recommend a specific way forward on the matter. The tension in President Christian's remarks to the delegation from Solomon Islands the previous month seemed to have been resolved in favor of careful deference to Indonesia and internal processes rather than substantive involvement of the Forum in the matter. The silence of the FSM on the issue was notable. Indeed, later in September, during the opening of the General Debate of the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York City, while leaders from Solomon Islands, Tonga, Nauru, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands, and Palau expressed support for the self-determination of the people of West Papua and called on the international community (including various mechanisms in the United Nations) to address their alleged human rights abuses (Walsh 2016), President Christian did not mention West Papua in his speech to the General Assembly, either as chair of the Forum or in his national capacity (fsmis, 21 Sept 2016).
As the FSM government attempted to present an assured hand when dealing with regional tensions as Forum chair, it struggled to handle a matter brewing much closer to home: the "deportation" of FSM migrants from Guam's jails back to the FSM. In early July 2016, during a radio address discussing the relationships between Guam, the FSM, and other countries that have Compacts of Free Association with the United States, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo called for an end to compact migrants taking advantage of the US federal government's lax enforcement of deportation provisions of the compact with regard to those compact migrants who do not abide by local and federal laws. Stressing the disproportionate number of compact migrants in Guam's prisons, Governor Calvo promised to formally contact the FSM government to try to [End Page 129] work out an arrangement for returning migrants from the FSM in Guam's jails back to the FSM (pdn, 11 July 2016).
On 10 July 2016, shortly after the radio address, Governor Calvo escalated his efforts by "deporting," for the first time, an inmate from the FSM back to the FSM. In what was labeled a "test case," Calvo invoked his "residual authority" under the Organic Act and signed an executive order that authorized the Guam government to pay for a one-way ticket for the inmate to his home state of Chuuk in exchange for commuting the inmate's sentence as well as for an agreement by the inmate to never return to Guam. A spokesperson for the governor claimed that the Calvo administration had tried to get officials and entities in the US government to address the issue of possible deportations of convicts back to the FSM, but to no avail. In light of that inaction, and because the convict met all the criteria for deportability—he had no local source of support, he was not attending a school, he had multiple felony convictions, and he was a public charge—Governor Calvo acted in lieu of federal authorities to deport the inmate (gdp, 14 July 2016).
Governor Calvo's action received support from a local legislator, Senator Rory Respicio of the Guam Legislature, who introduced a resolution on 15 July 2016 stating that the US government "consistently neglected to adequately enforce the provisions of the [compact] … and has not taken the necessary steps for the removal and deportation of those foreign criminals who are engaging in criminal activity" in Guam. The resolution supported Governor Calvo's use of his Organic Act authority to act in lieu of federal authorities to deport convicted felons (gdp, 18 July 2016). Notably, however, Guam Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson had notified the Guam Legislature on 8 July 2016 that the jurisdiction for deportation lies with the US federal government rather than at the state and local levels, and that deporting convicted migrants from Guam was not a priority for the federal government (pdn, 19 July 2016).
Perhaps because of that clarification from the attorney general, the Guam Legislature did not adopt Senator Respicio's resolution, but that did not deter Governor Calvo from forging ahead with his new approach and repatriating more FSM convicts from Guam (pdn, 22 July 2016). Tellingly, however, the Calvo administration stopped calling the actions "deportations." Instead, when the administration orchestrated the repatriation of another inmate (again from Chuuk), the governor's deputy press secretary stressed that the governor did not deport inmates, as that was the purview of the US government—rather, the Calvo administration entered into agreements with inmates to grant commutations (which were well within the authority of the governor) in exchange for voluntary and permanent departures from Guam (gdp, 26 July 2016). Attorney General Barrett-Anderson, while agreeing that the governor had the legal authority to commute sentences and enter into repatriation agreements with inmates, emphasized that she "disagreed … wholeheartedly" with the notion that the governor of Guam has the legal [End Page 130] authority to deport and warned Governor Calvo to "proceed cautiously" and in a "racially neutral" manner with his commutations initiative (pdn, 2 Aug 2016).
The Calvo administration's actions triggered official responses from the FSM. On 19 August 2016, after a fifth convict returned to the FSM under Governor Calvo's commutations initiative, Speaker Wesley W Simina of the FSM Congress wrote to President Christian to voice his concerns about the Calvo administration usurping the authority of the US government in conducting deportations "and anything that has the appearance thereof" (pdn, 4 Sept 2016). In early September 2016, Governor Calvo received a letter from FSM Consul General Robert Ruecho stating that the Office of the FSM Consulate General in Guam would no longer assist the Calvo administration in verifying the FSM citizenship of convicts whose sentences were commuted by Governor Calvo and who were slated for repatriation to the FSM. Without that verification, the convicts could not be readmitted into the FSM. On 6 September 2016, Governor Calvo responded to Speaker Simina with a letter explaining his commutations initiative and asking the FSM government to work with Guam in protecting the people of Guam and to "take responsibility for those who have abused [Guam's] hospitality … and soiled the reputations of those law-abiding men and women of Micronesia living on Guam" (gdp, 7 Sept 2016).
Governor Calvo's communication with Speaker Simina was just a warm-up, though. The governor followed up shortly thereafter with a letter to President Christian that contained striking language. Pointing to the challenges of Guam and the FSM in "shepherding societies scorned by subjugation by imperial masters," Calvo implored President Christian to reconsider the refusal of the Office of the FSM Consulate General to assist Calvo's commutations initiative and warned that if the office did not change its tack, the governor would declare Consul General Ruecho persona non grata in Guam (pdn, 8 Sept 2016).
With a major diplomatic crisis brewing, President Christian authorized FSM Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Lorin Robert to communicate to Governor Calvo the FSM government's concerns about the commutations initiative, including whether the convicts from the FSM went through proper due process, in full understanding, before agreeing to return to the FSM in exchange for commutations of their sentences, as well as whether it was appropriate for the Office of the FSM Consulate General in Guam to provide the necessary citizenship verification rather than the FSM Department of Justice. The Calvo administration responded with incredulity, noting that it was the FSM that was denying due process to its own citizens who wished to return to the FSM and that the Office of the FSM Consulate General had aided the commutations initiative on numerous occasions in the past (gdp, 12 Sept 2016).
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. Shortly after the diplomatic row with the FSM erupted, Governor Calvo proceeded to commute the sentences of four more convicts from the FSM, bringing the total to nine by 1 October [End Page 131] 2016, but his administration turned over those four convicts to the custody of US federal authorities for deportation proceedings rather than enter into repatriation agreements with them. Governor Calvo expressed satisfaction that the US government was finally treating the deportation of convicted compact migrants as a priority in Guam (pdn, 1 Oct 2016). The Calvo administration maintained their new approach for about a dozen more commutations throughout the rest of the period in review, as the Christian administration continued to refuse to assist in the original commutations-and-repatriation effort.
As the FSM tamped down regional crises, it took a number of strides to burnish its reputation on the international level as a champion for the protection of the natural environment. In October 2016, in Kigali, Rwanda, a delegation from the FSM led efforts by the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to adopt the Kigali Amendment, which aims to phase down the manufacture and use of hydrofluoro-carbons (hfcs). hfcs—initially adopted as replacements for ozone-depleting substances in refrigeration and air-conditioning—are four thousand times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide and are growing in usage by up to 15 percent per year. Phasing down the manufacture and use of hfcs will avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global warming, playing a major role in meeting the goal in the Paris Agreement on climate change of keeping the average global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The FSM, along with Mauritius, had been the first country to propose amending the Montreal Protocol in 2009 to tackle hfcs, and the adoption of the Kigali Amendment on 15 October was a major diplomatic achievement for the FSM (Christian 2016). Indeed, when the Marshall Islands became the first country to ratify the Kigali Amendment domestically in February 2017, its minister for foreign affairs proclaimed that "the world owes a great debt to the Federated States of Micronesia in particular for their tireless leadership in securing this [Kigali] Amendment" (unfccc 2017).
In addition to its work on the Kigali Amendment, the FSM took steps to address environmental concerns closer to home but with international linkages. In July 2016, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed the ruins of Nan Madol on its World Heritage List as well as its List of World Heritage in Danger. Nan Madol is a series of nearly one hundred towering edifices on the shores of the main island of Pohnpei, fashioned six hundred to nine hundred years ago out of basalt and coral boulders, that were the ceremonial center of a vast political dynasty. The inscription of Nan Madol as a World Heritage in Danger was owed to, among other things, the destabilizing effects of siltation and sea level rise on the structures along Pohnpei's shores (kp, 22 July 2016). In mid-April 2017, in line with its previous creation of a shark sanctuary in its entire exclusive economic zone, the FSM enacted a law that doubled the area of its waters that would be closed to commercial fishing as regulated by [End Page 132] the FSM national government, that is, up to twenty-four nautical miles from the shores of the FSM out to sea (compared to the original distance of twelve nautical miles) (kp, 18 April 2017). Most of the commercial fishing in FSM waters is by foreign fishing fleets pursuant to lucrative annual licenses granted by the FSM national government, so the closure is a significant financial sacrifice for the FSM in the interest of environmental conservation. And, in late May 2017, the Government of Japan (represented by its embassy to the FSM) signed a grant contract worth over US$850,000 to finance the first phase of a project by a Japanese outfit to assess leakages of oil from Japan's numerous World War II airplane and shipwrecks in the Chuuk Lagoon and take steps to implement emergency measures to address those leaks (Japan-FSM Embassy 2017). The effort had been a long-standing priority of the FSM, dating back to the Emanuel Mori administration (2007–2015), but the United States and Japan had long resisted entreaties by the FSM to take responsibility for assessing and addressing leaks from their wrecks in FSM waters—a resistance that was doubly troublesome because those countries retained the right under international law to grant access to their wrecks. Indeed, during the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2017, President Christian called on the United States and Japan to do their part in preventing the looming environmental catastrophe in the federation's waters (rnz 2017).
The actions of the FSM on the international stage were broad based and varied, interacting with numerous foreign entities and processes in pursuit of diverse goals. However, the FSM's primary foreign partner and foil remained the United States, whose Compact of Free Association with the FSM provided grist for several major political developments (in addition to the controversy over "deportations" of FSM migrant-convicts from Guam). In late 2016, the FSM hired the "powerhouse" law firm of Arnold & Porter in Washington, dc, for approximately US$420,000 per year to assist the FSM in, among other things, "looking ahead to possible compact negotiations when funding under the current compact is expected to expire in 2023" (kp, 11 Nov 2016). A few months later, in early February 2017, the law firm likely had to handle a potential major crisis as media in the United States published a draft executive order being considered by the administration of US President Donald Trump that would, among other things, direct federal authorities to take steps to deny admission into the United States by aliens deemed to be likely "public charges" as well as to remove those already-admitted aliens who have become "public charges" (Marianas Variety, 13 Feb 2017). In light of long-standing concerns raised by the Guam and Hawai'i governments about the strains imposed by compact migrants on their public services budgets, the draft order represented a significant threat to compact migrants. (As of press time, the draft executive order has not been finalized.) With that threat looming, the FSM and the United States officially confirmed and accepted Akillino H Susaia as ambassador of the FSM to the United States in mid-March 2017, finally filling the crucial post after [End Page 133] it had been vacant for over a year (fsmis, 28 March 2017).
The appointment of Ambassador Susaia took place in the same month that the FSM held a national referendum to decide whether the national constitution of the FSM should be amended to allow citizens of the FSM to also hold citizenships in other countries without relinquishing their citizenship in the FSM. Although the proposed amendment did not mention US citizenships, it was widely understood among FSM voters that the amendment was primarily aimed at allowing FSM citizens—many of whom currently reside indefinitely in the United States pursuant to the compact—to obtain US citizenship without giving up their FSM citizenship. That objective caused grave consternation for former FSM President John R Haglelgam, who submitted a letter to the editor of the Kaselehlie Press in February 2017 that warned about major logistical and legal hurdles to becoming a dual citizen of the FSM and the United States and tarred dual citizenship as a major threat to the "national sovereignty and the continual development of nationalism" of the federation (kp, 8 Feb 2017).
In order for the proposed amendment to be adopted, at least 75 percent of votes cast in at least three of the four states of the FSM had to be in favor of the proposal—a rather high threshold. Ultimately, only Kosrae approved the proposal by the necessary percentage (85 percent); less than a three-fourths majority of votes cast in each of the other three states were in favor of the proposal (just over 70 percent in Pohnpei, 61 percent in Chuuk, and 52 percent in Yap) (kp, 15 March 2017). For the foreseeable future, FSM migrants in the United States will be regulated by the immigration provisions of the compact, unless they choose to forgo their FSM citizenship in favor of obtaining citizenship in the United States.
As the FSM confronted numerous challenges and crises in its foreign relations during the period under review, the federation enjoyed a smooth domestic transition of power in a congressional election year. In early March 2017, along with voting on the proposed constitutional amendment on dual citizenship, the federation cast votes to elect representatives to the ten two-year seats in Congress. Voters returned all incumbents except for one in Chuuk and one in Pohnpei, the latter being the vice speaker of the FSM Congress (kp, 15 March 2017). When the Twentieth Congress of the FSM convened for the first time in mid-May 2017, the members retained Senator Simina as Speaker and selected Senator Esmond Moses from Pohnpei as the new vice speaker. Chairmanships of the main committees of the Congress largely remained the same (kp, 12 May 2017). With the FSM Congress newly reorganized, and with two years remaining in the tenure of President Christian at the head of the federation, the FSM looked forward to maintaining and advancing the spirit of unity that the president had exhorted the federation to achieve several months earlier in a speech he delivered during commemoration festivities for the thirtieth anniversary of FSM Independence Day (kp, 3 Nov 2016). After weathering a secession attempt by Faichuuk (Mulalap 2016) and internecine battles between [End Page 134] the FSM Congress and the executive branch in recent years (Mulalap 2017); and with the international stature of the FSM being burnished as it chaired the Forum, led various international environmental initiatives, and recalibrated its longstanding political and legal relationship with the United States, the federation seemed to be on the cusp of being acknowledged as a major contributor to the international community—if it can just maintain calm relations on the home front.
clement yow mulalap, a native of the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), is an independent legal consultant specializing in international law, particularly as applied to matters concerning the Pacific region. He holds a BA in economics (with minors in political science and English) from the University of Hawai'i–Mānoa; a JD (with a certificate in Asia-Pacific law) from the William S Richardson School of Law; and an LLM in international legal studies from New York University School of Law.
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