Should Guam, CNMI, and American Samoa replace Australia in a new Pacific forum?

Underwood: Let's find our island identity, join Pacific Island Forum

image
Robert Underwood for Pacific Daily News USA TODAY Network

There has been a Micronesian revolt which hasn’t fully caught our attention in Guam despite our perceived status as the cross-roads of Micronesia. The FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati have announced their intention to leave the Pacific Island Forum within one year.

They are justifiably unhappy that a Micronesian wasn’t selected to be secretary general even though it was Micronesia’s turn. Gerald Zackios, an experienced Marshallese diplomat, lost out to Henry Puna of the Cook Islands.

Micrexit may rival Brexit as the next international crisis, albeit on a smaller scale.

All of this could have been avoided if Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa were members of the forum. The French territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia are members. We can join if we want.

President Surangel Whipps of Palau was the first regional leader to take this significant step. The new President charged a “south Pacific bias.” I spoke with him earlier this week and he said the inclusion of Guam, the CNMI and even Hawaii might entice them to come back to the forum. He said it is supposed to be a forum of Pacific islands. He was also willing to allow Australia to leave, arguing that they are a continent rather than an island.

This conversation should propel us to define what we mean by “region” and Pacific islands. The closest island point to us other than those in the CNMI is Lamotrek, at 642 kilometers. Manila and Tokyo are over 2,500 kilometers away. Los Angeles is 9,831 kilometers away and some of us call that the “mainland” as if we were just off the coast of California.

Why do we proudly call ourselves “island people” and simultaneously desire to be connected to every other place that isn’t really a fellow island?

The Pacific islands in the “Blue Water Continent” share many things in common. They are facing climate change existential threats and are trying to pursue sustainable economies in small islands. They are the venue for international rivalry between the United States and China. In Department of Defense-speak, competition with China is labeled a “pacing threat.”

Attention over the next decade to the Pacific islands will be very high. The islands together could really be a blue continent. Or it could just be a lot of hot air and water, especially as we face ocean warming.

Despite claims to the contrary, we are not “America in Asia,” We aren’t even in Asia. We are in the middle of the North Pacific. We are American and we inhabit a Pacific island. We work through regulations which stifle our growth but also provides a safety net. We are the tip of a military spear that is aimed at someone else and makes us a target.

All of this is so not because the world hates Chamorus. This is so because we are actually the crossroads of the Pacific.

When we band together with other islands, we learn from each other and understand the commonality of living in a small island trying to be self-sustaining. We also learn about living in a world dominated by large nations.

How we counterbalance these forces requires island solutions and island thinking. Unfortunately, many of us think that Guam is different from other islands. We don’t think of ourselves as one of these underdeveloped islands. Our sophistication puts us in another league. Our sophistication is really a form of arrogance.

Let’s find our island identity and join the forum. I’ll bet you the United States is now looking at the forum to see how they can put their best foot forward in dealing with the “pacing threat.”

Put Fabot.

Robert Underwood is the former president of the University of Guam and Guam’s former delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.

https://www.guampdn.com/story/opinion/columnists/2021/03/05/underwood-lets-find-our-island-identity-join-pacific-island-forum/4586579001/



Comments

Sign In or Register to comment.