Tony Blinken’s Tiny Island Diplomacy

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken


Olivier Douliery / Associated Press

Even in an age of cyberattacks and hypersonic weapons, American strategists are discovering that outdated physical geography remains a key issue in the US-China competition. As a consequence, the sparsely populated island nations of the Pacific are receiving increasing attention from the United States and its allies. The latest example is the joint investment of the United States, Japan and Australia in an undersea cable connecting the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati and Nauru.

Saturday of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release title, “Joint Statement on Improving Telecommunications Operations in Eastern Micronesia,” may not suggest a geopolitical watershed. The recipient countries have a total population not much larger than Boise, Idaho and GDP many times lower. But they do include 641 of them (mostly in the FSM) in the same important ocean area as the US bases in Guam, Hawaii and Australia.

China’s strategists are well aware that if they can exercise more influence over these small nations, they will be in a better position to force the United States Navy out of the Western Pacific — in a military conflict or through a gradual shift in the balance of power. In 2019, Beijing persuaded Kiribati to transfer diplomatic recognition from US-aligned Taiwan to China, and this year China announced plans for an airstrip over part of the archipelago.

FSM has also received increasing investment from China, and it has considered Beijing’s offer to build an undersea internet cable. However, the United States and its allies prevailed over the island governments in behind-the-scenes foreign policy. The joint statement said the investment would “meet real needs” and “respect sovereignty” —a veiled reference to how China is using infrastructure investment as a cover for leverage. politics or espionage.

Diplomacy alone will not be enough to maintain America’s position in the Pacific in the face of China’s growing military reach. But small victories like this one show that the US has recognized the strategic significance of China’s incursions into the Pacific islands and is taking steps to address them.

The Journal’s Editorial Report: A diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games may not be enough. Image: Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

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