Barrasso: Pacific Island Allies are Critical to Countering China Threat

July 13, 2023

Click here to watch ranking member Barrasso’s remarks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered the following remarks at a full committee hearing to discuss the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2023, a joint resolution proposed by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Interior, to approve agreements concluded with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau (and an agreement with the Republic of the Marshall Islands upon its conclusion) to amend the Compacts of Free Association with the Freely Associated States.

The hearing featured testimony from the Honorable Joseph Yun, Special Presidential Envoy, U.S. Department of State; Dr. Siddharth Mohandas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S Department of Defense; The Honorable Carmen Cantor, Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior; His Excellency Surangel S. Whipps, Jr., President, Republic of Palau; Mr. Leo A. Falcam, Jr. Chief Negotiator for U.S.-FSM Compacts, FSM; and Mr. Phillip H. Muller, Chief Negotiator for U.S.-RMI Compacts, RMI.

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

“Well thanks so much, Mr. Chairman.

“Thanks for holding today’s hearing.

“And, thank you to our witnesses for joining us today.

“Today, we are discussing the Administration’s proposal for renewing the Compacts of Free Association.

“The Compacts are agreements between the United States and three strategically important island nations.

“Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands make up the Freely Associated States.

“The islands are integral to our national security and our strategic interests in the Pacific.

“The Compacts are crucial to preserving international maritime stability, maintaining geopolitical security, and countering Chinese hostility.

“The Compacts create a mutually beneficial security and defense relationship between the United States and the Freely Associated States.

“The Compacts give us exclusive military authority over the Freely Associated States’ lands and waters.

“This ‘strategic denial’ authority guarantees that our military can operate bases on the islands.

“It also allows us to deny access to any potential adversary in an area of the Pacific that is larger than the continental United States.

“This is a critical authority because Chinese aggression in the area is increasing.

“China is expanding its power in the Indo-Pacific region and is threatening the Freely Associated States.

“It is actively trying to upset the security and the power dynamic in the Pacific and threaten Taiwan.

“In March of this year, the outgoing President of the Federated States of Micronesia outlined Chinese attempts to undermine his country’s ties to the United States through bribery and threatening public officials.

“China has also tried to use aggressive and coercive actions against the economies of Palau and the Marshall Islands by threatening their tourism and fishing industries.

“I am pleased that the Administration has reached agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.

“I understand that the Administration is continuing to negotiate with the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“These negotiations need to be completed as soon as possible.

“It would be in all the parties’ interests to have an agreement signed into law that covers all three of the Freely Associated States. 

“I look forward to hearing an update from today’s witnesses on the state of the negotiations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“Mr. Chairman, the proposal that the Administration sent us is extensive.

“It includes a request for $7.1 billion over twenty years and numerous reforms to existing programs.

“This proposal requires our scrutiny.

“I look forward to working with you, and other members of this committee, to ensure that the Administration’s proposal is fiscally responsible and does reflect our national security interests.

“I would also like to highlight the contribution of the citizens of the Freely Associated States to the US Armed Forces.

“They serve at high rates and with distinction.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude.

“I am pleased that the proposal that the Administration has sent us includes provisions that will ensure these veterans receive the care they have earned.

“Mr. Chairman, I look forward to a robust discussion today regarding the Administration’s proposal.

“I am eager to work with you and other members of this committee to ensure that the Compacts of Free Association are renewed.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”