Chinaâ€™s at-sea expansions should motivate the U.S. government to strengthen ties with the island nation of Palau through increased funding, the Northern Marianasâ€™ lone delegate to Congress has urged.
â€œChina certainly understands how important islands can be,â€ said Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan.
â€œRight now China is actually creating islands, where none existed before,â€ Sablan said, referring to Chinaâ€™s maritime expansions in territories also claimed by its Asian neighbors.
Sablan spoke Tuesday at the House Natural Resources Committeeâ€™s annual hearing on the U.S. Department of the Interiorâ€™s budget. Some of the United Statesâ€™ financial assistance to Palau flows through the Interior Department.
Sablan also made the statement to call action on legislation he introduced on Feb. 10, which would approve a 2011 U.S.-Palau agreement that outlines a new package of multi-year funding assistance for Palau for 2016 through 2024.
Sablanâ€™s bill, H.R. 4531, has been referred to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, under the House Natural Resources Committee, congressional records show.
It has yet to pick up a co-sponsor.
Palauâ€™s Compact funding
Palau was under U.S. stewardship following World War II, until it became independent in 1994, after which it entered a period of free association, the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated in a 2013 report titled â€œPrioritizing Palau: Why the Compact budget matters.â€
The proposed U.S. funding for Palau adds up to almost $154 million for infrastructure projects, economic development assistance, and for a rainy-day trust fund, the legislation states.
In addition, the legislation would authorize $1.5 million a year to subsidize U.S. Postal Service mail delivery to Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
Palauâ€™s new Compact budget should have been passed by Congress in early 2011, but has faced severe obstacles, according to the center.
Without an annual budget, the Interior Department has used part of its discretionary funds, worth about $13 million a year, to help Palau.
The U.S. Congress has refused to approve new Compact funding for Palau without offsetting it with cuts elsewhere in the federal government budget, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies report.
There are strategic implications to continued delay in legislation to approve funding for Palau, according to the report.
â€œPalau has a special affinity for the United States, but if Washingtonâ€™s indifference convinces Palau that its interests are better served by turning elsewhere, it will negatively affect the U.S. strategic position in the Pacific,â€ the report states.
With Chinaâ€™s expansions in recent years, Sablan said, â€œReaganâ€™s foresight in assuring that Palau would be an ally of the United States is more clear than ever,â€ Sablan told the Committee.