KOLONIA, Pohnpei - No one in the FSM can deny the very public and cooperative influence of the Chinese Presence in recent months on this island and throughout the nation. In the last year China has been active in providing funding for a number of large infrastructure projects and donations, as well as an increased willingness to assist smaller-scale programs and organizations.
It is an upswing in activity perhaps made more stark just as the U.S. has clearly and openly begun a process of decreased funding over the next decade ultimately leading to the end of the major bi-lateral agreement between it and the FSM sometime around the year 2023.
Following on the heels of the landmark April 2006 ministerial meeting in Fiji, where China and 8 Pacific island countries (the Cook Islands, the Republic of the Fiji Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, the Independent State of Samoa, Kingdom of Tonga, and the Republic of Vanuatu) signed an economic and cooperative agreement that provides $300 million in preferential loans and other aid to expand trade, investment, and infrastructure development, are a host of on-the-ground projects both big and small in the FSM.
In Pohnpei, the construction of the Western Pacific Tuna Commission and Official Residences for the nation's President, Vice President, and Speaker of Congress, as well as plans to build a new State Administration Building later this year; In Kosrae, a project is underway to begin construction of a new High School; In Yap, delivery of a custom-built Cargo and Transport vessel for the outer islands will be handed over later this month. (The state of Chuuk has yet to make a request of the Chinese Embassy in Pohnpei.)
Chinese Ambassador Liu Fei, in a lengthy interview at the sprawling Embassy Complex in Palikir, says that these efforts on the part of the Chinese government are not only intended to assist with economic ties, trade and investment, but are also part of a broader effort to give people a better and more positive understanding of China, which is itself, the Ambassador says, a developing country.
"China is a friendly, peaceful country," the gracious Diplomat states. "Normally, the media misses this point, in understanding China fully. It's a cultural difference. The media's picture is different than what you actually see. We are very open and practical…and I think people like to see what happens in China, to see it as it is now."
Recent actions also show an increased interest at the smaller scale as well: a new computer for the newspaper, the Kaselehlie Press, only days after arriving on the island, and more recently, a donation of over 200 books on a variety of Chinese subjects and themes and sectors to the Pohnpei Public Library, and the College of Micronesia. Kosrae High School, and Xavier High School in Chuuk, will also be receiving the China collections.
The U.S., followed by Japan and Australia, are still very much the leading financial donors in the region, explains Liu. At this point it is not one of competition, but rather of collaboration on shared objectives by the more industrialized nations with interests here, with China in a supportive role.
"We are very keen on helping the education, private, and infrastructure sectors, as well as trade and investment and the other areas that have been outlined in the country's Strategic Development Plan. We are very much the same in focusing on the key sectors here…we actually are on the same policy with the U.S. Government in this regard." Ambassador Liu makes it a point to meet "quite often" with the other foreign diplomats on the island. "If the U.S., Australian, and Japanese Embassies want to work with me, I always welcome them."
"There is also discussion of collaboration between Zhejiang College in the southern province of China and the COM-FSM to work together on learning exchanges and scholarships related to the field of Marine Science. In years past China gave 2 or 3 scholarships. Last year China gave a record 17 scholarships to FSM students. This year it will be 12. Ambassador Liu is also working hard to create direct trade links between local retailers and Chinese manufacturers and corporations to, as she put it, "reduce the unnecessary costs for the people."
The books and the scholarships and learning exchanges by students as well as exchanges with high-ranking FSM officials are a way to "balance the view of China," says Liu. Important so that one can have a "fair judgment." In an atmosphere where the western media usually reports on the political strife between China and Taiwan, the drought and desertification encroaching across large parts of the country, and its massive economic potential and growing trade surpluses with its major trading partners, this is a way to reveal a fuller ideal of the world's most populous nation, one that has 5,000 years of recorded history, 56 minority groups, and borders Russia, Korea, Nepal, Yemen, and India.
"This is the people's connection, not what the media presents, where only the political view is shown. The traditional connection, the custom and culture and people." Ambassador Liu spoke at length of her youth growing up in the Fujian Province of China, where she could see the island of Taiwan across the Taiwan Straight in the South China Sea. She speaks the Taiwanese dialect perfectly and has many friends who are Taiwanese, including highranking diplomats.
China is also involved heavily in Pohnpei in the Agriculture and Fisheries sectors. They developed and maintain the large Pilot Farm project in Madolenihmw, growing numerous varieties of vegetables. And the 28-boat tuna-fishing operation, Luen Thai, from Hong Kong is also based permanently in Pohnpei, with plans to increase the number of fishing vessels to up to 40 next year.
There is also a vision to assist and expand the T3 program here, helping the trade school offer training on carpentry, plumbing, washing machine repair, electrical works, and other hands-on trades. Moreover, a desire to work on building a primary industry revolving around local foods: noodles made from taro, breadfruit, or banana flour. "Healthy, balanced, cheaper," is how Liu puts it.
Ambassador Liu, who has been in the region for more than 20 years with posts in Brisbane, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, states that she is "very much attached to the local condition," and that "We're really working for the country, because the Compact will end, and the FSM needs to develop their primary industries."
"I want to bring China to the FSM. People are looking at China, are now paying attention to China." And on the increasing role that China is assuming in the development of the FSM: "We won't be the leading ones. At least not for a while. We are here to assist…and we are also hoping that China will play a leading role in the sustainable development of the country."
The Ambassador will make her first trip to the other Islands of the Federation this month and next to attend the Kosrae Inauguration ceremonies in the last week of February, and then to Yap for the vessel handover and Yap Day on the first day of March.