September 03, 2012

By Bill Jaynes and Bernadette Grong
The Kaselehlie Press

August 30, 2012 Colonia, Yap-The controversy over the agreement between Yap State leaders and Chinese developers who want to develop a massive tourism industry in Yap is not likely to go away any time soon.

ETG wants to build hotels, casinos, marinas, and golf courses. ETG has also promised to significantly beef up Yap's infrastructure such as roads, schools, a hospital, water supply and others. However, many Yapese believe that the development will cost Yap its identity and that it also has a potential to destroy its environment.

It is difficult to determine whether the Yapese residents who are upset about the proposed project are more upset about the potential environmental and social impact of the project or because their government did not provide much information to them before the Governor signed the agreement.

Freelance reporter Bernadette Grong tried to schedule an appointment to interview Governor Sebastian Anefal and was told that she should instead talk to ETG representatives. Indeed the task of public information on the project has been left primarily to ETG and its representatives. Grong wrote that ETG has met with several members of the Yapese Women's Association, the Yap Visitor's Bureau, OurYAP, and the Yapese Youth Congress to brief the members of those groups about the project.

Grong said that ETG representatives have started to actively distribute information packets to the public. During an interview one ETG representative told her that the investment group feels that the lack of information coming from the Yap Government will not help the public to understand what ETG is in Yap to do or how they will go about it.

Though Yap State has posted the entire Cooperative Investment agreement signed by the State of Yap and ETG (Chengdu Century City New International Convention and Exhibition Center Company Ltd.) on its website (www.yapstategov.org) it was a foregone signed deal by the time it did.

But while many Yapese residents still feel that their government has sold them down the river, the agreement doesn't seem to show any evidence of that. Government does agree to change some laws. Essentially the agreement boils down to the fact that control over the entire project is in the hands of the land owners. Landowners can choose to lease their land for use by ETG for the project and it will proceed or they can choose not to lease their land and it will never start.

The fate of the project rests entirely in the hands of Yap's property owners. "If Yapese people do not lease their land to E.T.G., then E.T.G. will leave. No land means no investment. Simple as that," said Yang Gang, an ETG representative.

Grong wrote that tensions are high in Yap and there has already been at least one case of assault against a representative of ETG. "One of the ETG reps was assaulted while in his vehicle, in front of the Blue Lagoon Store in Colonia on Wednesday, August 22, 2012," Grong wrote. "The culprit was a local male, who was arrested and jailed. He was later released and he signed a formal written apology for the ETG rep involved. His reason for attacking the ETG rep was simply because he worked for ETG. Since then, no other violent scenes have occurred in Colonia regarding ETG."

Yap residents are divided about the project. Grong asked local residents if they think that ETG will help the economy of the State. "Yes, they have offered to help improve our tourism and don't forget the job opportunities they will provide," said Paul Tapang. Another Yap resident wholeheartedly disagreed, "They just want to come in and take over. They don't care about our culture or our way of life."

Grong says that there is division even amongst the leaders of the local government. One official told her, "I don't want the Chinese to come here and take the land that belonged to my ancestors." But another government official was positive about ETG. "If this will bring in revenue for our island, then it will be good. Especially since budget cuts are in the near future."

Some of the government leaders in Guam have expressed their opinions on the ETG proposal.

Shortly after Yap's Council of Pilung signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ETG in January of this year, Guam's Pacific News Center ran an interview with Senator Judi Guthertz of the 31st Guam Legislature. During the interview, Guthertz reacted strongly to word of the potential development in its neighboring State.

"Should we be concerned about this? I think we should be very interested in this because this is not the only area within the Western Pacific that China's established a strong presence economically and socially," she told PNC. "We should be concerned about the potential strength that China is trying to establish in our region, and I'm sure that the United States government through its intelligence forces, etcetera, are aware of this."

She told PNC that the move by China highlights the U.S. military's need for Guam "so that Guam will be a strong location for the defense of the United States and our allies."

At about the same time, Congresswoman Madeline Z. Bordallo released a statement in connection with the signing of the MOU. "The recent addition of direct flights to Yap from China highlights the importance and urgency of including Chinese visitors under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program. I continue to work with Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, as well as our island leaders, to push for the inclusion of Chinese visitors. The Chinese market would be an important growth market for our tourism industry in the future," her statement said.

A group of concerned Yap citizens met with some members of the 8th Yap State Legislature on Thursday, May 23 2012 regarding the ETG project. People from all parts of the island, of different ages, and different backgrounds attended to voice their questions and concerns. Grong said that a broadcast of the meeting was supposed to have been aired over the weekend, but the radio station did not play it.

"What do you think the Governor has failed to do concerning this investment, and what do you think he should do?" Grong asked Vice Speaker Ted Rutun.

"I don't think that the Governor has failed in his duties. I think the lack of communication is making him into a bad guy. If negotiations were public, there would be no misunderstanding."

She asked Speaker Henry Falan, "What actions can the civil society take to ensure that this investment will not flop?"

"The public must demand transparency and responsibilities of the government officials working for them," he responded.

Grong told the Speaker and Vice Speaker about threats posted on the Micronesia Forum and on several Facebook forums. She asked the two men what advice they have for the people of Yap during what she called "this time of turmoil."

"I think people should wait and give a chance to the government process. Peaceful actions are the appropriate way of doing things. Violence won't solve any problems," the Speaker said.

"If this investment agreement goes thru, we shouldn't resort to violence," the Vice Speaker said. "We must conduct ourselves civilly. Hopefully, we can still negotiate with ETG to benefit our people and our island. Dignity and integrity is important. Our culture is unique to us and to the rest of the world. Let's not forget that."