Micronesia’s president Panuelo claims spying and bribery by China

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Outgoing FSM President David Panuelo
Outgoing FSM President David Panuelo . . . “To be clear: I have had direct threats against my personal safety from PRC officials acting in an official capacity.” Image: 1News/Getty

By Barbara Dreaver, 1News Pacific correspondent

The President of the Federated States of Micronesia has made a series of disturbing claims against China, including alleging spying, threats to his personal safety and bribery.

President David Panuelo made the claims to his Congress, governors and the leadership of the country’s state legislatures in a letter which has been leaked to 1News.

Panuelo said the point of his letter was to warn of the threat of warfare.

The president, who has just two months left in office, has publicly attacked China in the past.

“We can play an essential role in preventing a war in our region; we can save the lives of our own Micronesian citizens; we can strengthen our sovereignty and independence,” he said in his latest letter.

President Panuelo said he believed that by informing the leaders of his views he was creating risks to his personal safety along with that of his family and staff.

Outlined in the letter are a series of startling allegations.

Chinese activity within EEZ
The president said there had been activity by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) within his country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The “purpose includes communicating with other PRC assets so as to help ensure that, in the event a missile — or group of missiles — ever needed to land a strike on the US Territory of Guam that they would be successful in doing so”.

President Panuelo said he had stopped China research vessels in FSM waters after patrol boats were sent to check “but the PRC sent a warning for us to stay away”.

He also claimed that at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva in July last year he was followed by two Chinese men, one of them an intelligence officer.

“To be clear: I have had direct threats against my personal safety from PRC officials acting in an official capacity,” he said.

In another claim, Panuelo said that after the first China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers Meeting, the joint communique was published with statements and references that had not been agreed to “which were false”.

He said he and other leaders such as Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi and Fiji’s now former prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama had requested more time to review the joint communique before it went out but their requests were ignored.

Trying to strongarm officials
President Panuelo also claimed China had been trying to strongarm officials when it came to bilateral agreements such as a proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the “Deepening Blue Economy” which had “serious red flags”.

One of those was that the FSM “would open the door to the PRC to begin acquiring control over the island nation’s fibre optic cables and ports”.

President Panuelo said in his latest letter that while he advised cabinet to reject the MOU in June last year, in December he learned that it was back in “just mere hours from its signing”.

He said that when Foreign Minister Khandhi Elieisar raised this with Chinese Ambassador Huang Zheng, he suggested “that he ought to sign the MOU anyway and that my knowing about it — in my capacity as Head of State and Head of Government — was not necessary”.

President Panuelo said he found out Ambassador Huang’s replacement, Wu Wei, had been given a mission to shift the FSM away from its allies the US, Japan and Australia. He therefore denied the Ambassador designate his position.

“I know that one element of my duty as President is to protect our country, and so knowing that: our ultimate aim is, if possible, to prevent war; and, if impossible, to mitigate its impacts on our own country and on our own people.”

There are also allegations of bribery. President Panuelo claimed that shortly after Vice-President Aren Palik took office in his former capacity as a Senator, he was asked by a Chinese official to accept an envelope filled with money.

‘Never offer bribe again’
“Vice-President Pakik refused, telling the [official] to never offer him a bribe again,” President Panuelo said.

In October last year, Panuelo said that when Palik visited the island of Kosrae he was received by a Chinese company, which has a private plane.

“Our friends told the Vice-President that they can provide him private and personal transportation to anywhere he likes at any time, even Hawai’i, for example; he need only ask,” President Panuelo claimed.

He said senior officials and elected officials across the whole of the national and state governments had received offers of gifts as a means to curry favour.

The President concluded the letter by saying he wanted to inform his fellow leaders, regardless of the risk to himself, because the nation’s sovereignty, prosperity and peace and stability were more important.

The Chinese embassy in the Federated States of Micronesia and in Wellington have been asked to comment on the allegations by 1News.

Republished with permission.

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