UNITED NATIONS — The Marshall Islands president on Tuesday welcomed progress on what he called a new alliance agreement with the United States, but said it was crucial to better address the legacy of U.S. nuclear testing and climate change.
Speaking at the annual UN General Assembly in New York, President David Kapua also made a broader call for help and action on climate change, where his low-lying Pacific island nation is particularly vulnerable. influences.
The Marshall Islands and other Pacific island nations of the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau signed agreements with the U.S. in the late 1980s, known as compacts, giving the U.S. defense responsibilities and military base rights in exchange for economic support.
The pacts, which expire in 2023 and Palau in 2024, are being renegotiated, and experts and former U.S. officials have warned that if the talks fail, states could turn to Washington’s geostrategic rival, China.
“While we share common goals and a strong partnership with the United States of America, we also face serious development challenges and basic needs,” Kabua said.
“We welcome recent progress with the United States of America on a new Compact of Free Association and a targeted trust fund,” he said.
However, he added: “It is critical to better address the legacy and contemporary challenges of nuclear impact testing to tackle climate change with the urgency and commitment it deserves, and to strengthen our voices as equal partners.”
Kabua said Washington was emphasizing re-engagement with the Pacific islands, adding: “We all have to make sure we walk the talk.”
The Marshall Islands consists of about 30 remote tropical atolls between Australia and Hawaii. Their average elevation is about 6.5 feet above sea level, and tidal waves regularly flood the land at increasingly violent rates.
Islanders were also plagued by the health and environmental impacts of 67 nuclear tests conducted by the United States between 1946 and 1958, including the 1954 “Castle Bravo” at Bikini Atoll – the largest bomb ever detonated by the United States.
Kabua sharply criticized China, highlighting human rights issues in the Xinjiang region and its military pressure on China’s claimed autonomous Taiwan, while calling on the United Nations to “better welcome Taiwan and its people into our global family.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Thursday to better coordinate aid to the Pacific island region in the face of Chinese competition.