UNITED NATIONS – The president of the Marshall Islands on Tuesday welcomed what he called progress toward a new partnership agreement with the United States, but said it was necessary to better address the legacy of US nuclear testing and climate change.
President David Capua made the remarks at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he also appealed more broadly for help and action to tackle climate change, to which his Pacific island nation is particularly vulnerable.
The Marshall Islands and other Pacific island states, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, signed agreements known as the Pacts with the United States in the late 1980s that give the United States defense responsibility and the right to military bases in exchange for economic support.
The agreements, which expire in 2023, and in the case of Palau in 2024 are being renegotiated, and experts and former US officials warn that countries may look to Washington’s geostrategic rival China for support if talks fail.
“While we have common goals and a strong partnership with the USA, we also face serious development challenges and basic needs,” said Capua.
“We welcome the recent progress with the United States of America towards a renewed charter of free association and with it a directed trust fund,” he said.
However, he added, “It is critical that the inherited and contemporary challenges of nuclear impact experiments are better addressed, that climate change is addressed with the urgency and commitment it deserves, and that our voice as an equal partner is strengthened.”
Capua said Washington was confirming its renewed engagement with the Pacific islands, adding: “It is essential for all of us to ensure that words are met with deeds.”
The Marshall Islands consist of about 30 remote tropical atolls between Australia and Hawaii. They average about 6.5 feet above sea level, and tidal waves regularly flood the land with increasing ferocity.
Islanders also continue to suffer from the health and environmental impacts of the 67 US nuclear tests conducted from 1946 to 1958, including “Castle Bravo” in Bikini Atoll in 1954 – the largest US bomb ever detonated.
Kapua was openly critical of China, highlighting human rights issues in Xinjiang and its military pressure on China’s self-governing Taiwan, while calling on the United Nations to “better welcome Taiwan and its people into our global family.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is scheduled to host a meeting Thursday on the sidelines of the General Assembly aimed at improving aid coordination for the Pacific island region in the face of Chinese competition.