Former Micronesian President David Panuelo: How the CCP Targeted My Nation

Mr. Panuelo encourages world leaders to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party.
Former Micronesian President David Panuelo: How the CCP Targeted My Nation
Former President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo in Washington on Nov. 29, 2023. (Lei Chen/The Epoch Times)
Jan Jekielek
Jeff Minick

David Panuelo, the former president of the Federated States of Micronesia, wrote a number of letters to other leaders in the region during his time in office (2019–2023) to raise awareness about the Chinese regime’s belligerent tactics.

That part of the Pacific and its island nations are part of the “Second Island Chain” of defense in the United States’ military strategy and are crucial to the deterrence of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Mr. Panuelo spoke with host Jan Jekielek for a recent episode of “American Thought Leaders.”
Jan Jekielek: I’ve been watching what you’ve been doing in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), where you were the president, standing up to communist China, and I’ve been reading several letters you wrote. At the beginning, you’re extremely cordial in this Pacific Islander way that we cherish. By the end, you’re very direct about the egregious behavior on the part of the Chinese regime. Tell me how this happened.
David Panuelo: I want to say upfront that we have good relations with every country around the world, with the United States being our enduring partner. China is a beautiful country, with a beautiful culture and tradition, but I felt I needed to take a strong stance to make sure our nation is protected.

I was invited by President Xi to go to China, and all the treatment that was given to me is appreciated. But over the course of time, I learned I must take some bold actions to make sure that the sovereignty of our nation is protected and also for the Pacific region as a whole, because security is important. So, I did write several letters—one, when [Solomons Island] Prime Minister Sogavare signed the security agreement with China.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s the president of the Solomon Islands.
Mr. Panuelo: Yes. As a Pacific leader, I wrote to Prime Minister Sogavare in a friendly manner, because he’s like a brother to me. We share what we’re concerned about. The letter elicited the Prime Minister to share with the Pacific Islands Forum the promise that China will not militarize the Solomon Islands.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to highlight for everybody how strategically important for U.S. naval operations that region is—that change in the balance of power there has a profound impact on the ability of the United States to project power west. What did the Chinese Communist Party do that made you become pointed with your criticisms?
Mr. Panuelo: My letter to Sogavare was prompted by the security agreement. The second letter was directed to the leaders of the Pacific regarding the Common Development agreement, which China was proposing to all the Pacific leaders during a meeting in Fiji. We reviewed that Common Development agreement and learned that by signing, we would have compromised our sovereignty.

That would allow the Chinese to come in and look at the minerals of our exclusive economic zone. It would give them access to knowing who’s entering our country and getting out through electronic means.

Upon review, leaders did find that would cause the problem of compromising our sovereignty. The agreement was shelved. We have to draw the line in the sand to say, “If this encroaches on our sovereignty, then it’s not good for the interests of our nation and collectively for the Pacific Island countries.”

I issued the third letter to our leaders of the FSM. I targeted the entire leadership, because we’re comprised of a federation—four states, municipal governments with state governments, and two federal governments—to warn them these activities can be subtle in nature, what they call “wolf diplomacy,” depending on the personality of the diplomats. Some are subtle and some are aggressive.

We experienced that during my administration. As president, I would go to a Japanese function to celebrate the birthday of the emperor, for example. The Chinese ambassador to the FSM would follow me and whisper in my ear to be careful, because they heard I was going to Palau.

They don’t like it, because Palau is sympathetic to Taiwan. I had to say, “Ambassador, don’t ever treat me like that,” because he was persistently warning a head of state. I warned him not to do that again, because we’re a sovereign nation. He can say what he wants, but he cannot be directing us in that way.

Mr. Jekielek: This is what the CCP does, but it’s so outrageous and blatant. Your example is interesting, of just insisting that something that’s already been decided be changed, because you have the backing of the whole Chinese regime behind you, so you feel you can do that.
Mr. Panuelo: We need to stand up strong as sovereign nations to defend our country in every way. I think that message is important to demonstrate.
Mr. Jekielek: This seems like an incredible amount of pressure when you have the second-largest economy in the world, an aggressive superpower like communist China, doing this.
Mr. Panuelo: Fortunately, I love my country, and representing our country was a passion I took on. That is going to be pressure on anyone who’s leading a nation, but I have to make decisions in the best interest of our country, even if it disappoints that superpower.

After all, who am I serving? It’s our nation and our citizens.

Mr. Jekielek: Few world leaders seem to share that level of passion when it comes to facing the Chinese regime. What would you say to them?
Mr. Panuelo: We have to make sure the truth is known. In the complexity of this climate today, it’s a rarity to speak honestly and boldly of what is good for your country and for the community at large. That’s what I did as a president, and I don’t think that’s difficult to do. If it has to be bold, then be bold about it, because we want to make sure the truth comes out.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show "American Thought Leaders." Jekielek’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009, he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He was an executive producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."
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