Supporting Our Commitments to Our Freely Associated States Allies
Madam Speaker, last year, I was proud to help create the first-ever Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus, which I co-chair along with four of my colleagues.
When we launched the Caucus, I noted that our country's and world's future lie in the Indo-Pacific, and that the island nations of the Pacific are a key yet too-often overlooked part of that region and future.
We have critical strategic interests and longstanding partnerships throughout the Pacific islands. Yet now our allies and friends and all other Pacific jurisdictions are increasingly under severe economic and environmental stress, and China is aggressively seeking to grow its influence. We cannot ignore these critical developments, and our new Caucus is dedicated to assuring that does not happen.
Among these nations are three with which we have an especially close relationship under a unique status: the freely-associated Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau. These are island countries with which we share a long history dating back to the Second World War and before and an enduring relationship built on decades of shared interests and like values. These countries, also collectively known as the Freely Associated States, span an expanse of the Pacific ranging from just southwest of my State of Hawai‘i to our territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, an area the size of the forty-eight contiguous States.
Under our Compacts of Free Association, our country can construct military bases on their soil and make decisions that affect our mutual security. In return, we provide financial assistance, access to some federal programs and enable free movement of their citizens to live and work in the United States.
The role these islands play in our national defense cannot be understated. For example, Palau asked our country to increase its military presence in its islands, and the Marshall Islands are home to what the Army calls "the premier missile test range in the world." In November, a Navy destroyer near Hawai‘i intercepted a mock ICBM launched from U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll in an exercise viewed as an important accomplishment and critical milestone by our military. Vulnerable as this small island community is to COVID-19, it opened its closed borders to our citizens who needed to work at Kwajalein.
Given the importance of the Compacts, we must always demonstrate to the Freely Associated States and the world that the U.S. can be trusted to uphold its commitments. For example, I am very pleased that the final Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus funding bill includes $5 million of a $20 million debt the U.S. owes to the Marshall Islands in response to unilateral changes made to the investment tax and trade incentives in the initial version of the Compact of Free Association.
On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed that the outgoing Administration recommended providing $2 million less for Fiscal Year 2021 than was agreed to in compensation for amending various education programs back in 2003. This underfunding erodes the trust that our allies and partners have for our commitment to the Compacts.
We must fulfill and take these obligations seriously, especially as we work to renew the economic provisions of these Compacts. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in the coming Congress to remedy this error and address other issues that may arise relating to the Compacts.
Our alliances and partnerships worldwide, powered by shared interests and values, are America's greatest strengths, especially in this era of great power competition. Trust in our country's ability and willingness to honor our commitments must be the unshakeable foundation of these crucial relationships. We can and must do better to protect that trust.