September 17, 2008

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Beginning on September 6 leaders from Pacific Island nations gathered in Xiamen, China for a five day conference on trade, tourism, and investment. The conference that the public saw was full of pomp and spectacle with all dignitaries present.

At the opening ceremony, all of the Pacific Islanders delivered addresses to the gathered crowd from island nations. While most of the speakers used the time to thank China for projects that had been given to their islands some used the time for subtle digs. Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni Retzlaff of Samoa thanked China for not forcing an agenda on the Pacific Island nations and called them a true friend, a remark that earned him a short lecture from representatives of the Australian government later that day. He repeated the same statement at another meeting the following day.

He also challenged Pacific Island leaders to remember that the success of leaders should be judged not by the standard of living of people at the highest economic echelons of society but by the standard of living of those at the lowest.

FSM's Secretary for Resources and Development Peter Christian also spoke. His time was limited because other speakers took much longer than their allotted time. He used his short time to say that FSM's relationship with China was established because of a dire need not by choice. He said that over time the FSM had come to appreciate the relationship and that now it is by choice.

He reminded the Chinese of their own proverb that says "A tree that grows slowly bears good fruit." He said that if that is the way that Pacific Islands move forward toward economic growth then it will take a century just to catch up.

He said that Christians believe that God made the world and it was good "but then God made one mistake" when he made man and the world is suffering for it with global warming, food shortages, and the high cost of oil. Those factors could wipe out the development that the Pacific islands have achieved so far, he said and Pacific Islands are the first to get hit by the problems. He said that because of where we are and what we don't have it takes Pacific islands longer to recover.

He said that China had shown a real interest in Pacific island countries and thanked them for it.

He closed by saying that he hoped that the result of the conference wouldn't be a "one size fits all solution," and reminded the leaders that bilateral talks are important.

Indeed, the real work of the conference seemed to be taking place in smaller rooms through bi-lateral talks away from the mass meeting halls. Secretary Christian signed a substantial agreement for China to provide doctors to Chuuk in a meeting of that type.

The other members of the FSM delegation at the conference heard that the deal had been signed for several days and we were promised details about the agreement that never materialized.

The Kaselehlie Press was allowed to be present when Secretary Christian met with the Special Envoy from China's Department of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Wang Yong Qiu.

While no other leader at the conference brought up the subject of the One China Policy Ambassador Wang quickly during the meeting thanked the FSM for sticking by the policy that does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country. He told Secretary Christian that with new leadership in Taiwan cross strait relationships had been getting better for the last three months and that they hoped things would continue to improve in the future.

Some have been speculating that if China and Taiwan's relationship improves it would mean that neither country would need to compete for the attentions of Pacific Island countries through aid programs. Ambassador Wang said that China should do more and that because of their economic growth they can do more.

He reminded Secretary Christian that the FSM is only one of two countries that has not submitted an application for a concessional loan. He said that he was surprised about that since most countries wanted as much help as they can get. He said that Nigeria, for instance wanted a $2 billion loan and that they didn't care about the terms they just needed cash to stimulate the economy. They didn't receive that loan but they certainly wanted it.

Secretary Christian during his turn to speak reminded the Ambassador that China is not the only donor country to the FSM and that FSM had applied for a loan from China to establish PetroCorp, the new FSM fuel supplier in the FSM but that China said that the $10 million they needed for the project was too small for the concessional loan.

As to the one China policy he said that the FSM would hold to that policy and that he is cognizant of diplomacy but that the one China policy would not keep the FSM from pursuing business interests in Taiwan if that is where they need to go in order to solve problems. He said that the FSM government would not have government meetings in Taiwan but they would continue to have business contacts there and in China as well.

He pursued the topic of transportation services in the FSM and told Ambassador Wang that he wants to speak to an airline in China that could potentially service the FSM as a second gateway that would bypass the US border controls by flying through the Philippines.

He thanked them for their continued interest in small projects in the FSM like the pilot farm in Pohnpei. He adamantly requested that China not close that project as they are currently talking about doing.

He mentioned two fishing companies from China that want to come to the FSM and said that the FSM would work with China on that but that he wanted to be sure that the FSM would benefit from the proposals and that it might take some time.

He spoke of the memorandum of understanding that was signed three months ago with China that establishes the FSM as a tourist destination for Chinese citizens. He said that after he signed it he didn't sleep worrying about what would happen if all 1.4 billion people from China came to the FSM. "We would sink."

As is diplomatic practice, Ambassador Wang was to be the last to speak. He said that he was concerned about moving too fast on tourism until the infrastructure is in place. Those that take vacations to places like the FSM are those who are wealthy. If the infrastructure is not in place then tourists will return to China with a negative report and people will stop coming.

One of the themes that was repeatedly constantly at the conference was the speed at which China's economy grew after they opened their doors to outside investors thirty years ago and Ambassador Wang was no exception. He began to explain why China's economy has grown.

Secretary Christian interrupted him and said that the reason their economy grew is because the country was closed for so many years before they opened up and that maybe the FSM should do the same and close its borders to outside businesses and then open them up some time later. He said that the FSM doesn't want to have a vibrant economy that it doesn't own.

Ambassador Wang reassumed control of the conversation and said that China's growth was the result of three "p's": 1) political stability, 2) policy, he said that the policy before China opened its doors in 1978 kept its people poor and, 3) people, "Chinese people work hard because they are working for their future."

The investment, trade and tourism conference continued on with more flourishes including a Tuesday night fireworks display and performance with a cast of hundreds. Once again the theme was the people's gratitude for China's quick economic development.