Chuuk Independence: Why and How?

Excuse me for weighing in on a matter that concerns Chuukese, not foreigners like me. Although I lived in Chuuk happily for 25 years, I am under no illusion that my skin color has changed and my passport has been mysteriously transformed from US to FSM-issued.

Yet, over the past several weeks a number of Chuukese friends have asked for my opinion on an issue that seems to be commanding the attention of the whole FSM. So let me carry on my long tradition of wading into the fray and saying something about the issue. Always, of course, in the hope that what I say will help clarify issues and so enable those with a vote on the issue to resolve this matter for themselves.

The Chuuk Political Status Commission and public supporters of the independence movement must supply answers to two basic questions: Why and How?

Why?

What prompted the Chuuk independence movement? Is it the feeling that Chuuk could do better economically on its own? Do supporters of the movement think that Chuuk is somehow being cheated out of its proper share of funds by FSM? Are supporters of Chuuk independence annoyed that Chuuk Education is receiving less money per student than the other states? Do they feel that inadequate funding is responsible for the poor showing of the Chuuk schools compared with other places? If money is what matters here, then voters ought to know that and they should be told precisely what the money issues are.

But there are other possible reasons behind the independence movement. I’ve long wondered whether people in Chuuk ever grow angry at the way they are sometimes viewed by other Micronesians. If I were portrayed as the wayward older brother of the family, I might get mad, too. Could this be part of the motivation for splitting and going it alone?

Here’s part of a post made on the Micronesian Forum nearly two years ago:

Most of the Micronesians in Hawaii are Marshallese and Chuukese, and most of the crimes are committed by them. They make the rest of us look like ignorant fools. Either the Chuukese with the stabbing or Marshallese with their fights with the locals…. Chuukese and Marshallese should know that for their action there is a reaction, and that reaction is always “Micronesians” being labeled as bad people by the people of Hawaii. They aren’t civilized as the general population of Micronesia is, and both groups always give Micronesia a bad name.

This kind of generalization may be unfair to Chuukese, just as the writer claims that the readiness to lump all island groups together is to other Micronesians. Remarks like this could cause resentment between Chuukese and others in FSM. The negative feelings they cause can be even more divisive than squabbles over money. In any case, let’s at least be clear on what the real motives are for separation from FSM.

How?

By this, I don’t mean so much the constitutional loopholes that would allow Chuuk to sever its ties with FSM. Even less am I concerned with the legal structures that Chuuk would require to conduct a balanced public education campaign, to arrange for a public referendum on the issue, and to divide up current FSM funds equitably. My question, and just about everyone else’s, has to do with the sustainability of Chuuk once it separates.

What’s the plan for providing the funding Chuuk would need in the future?

At present Chuuk is receiving $24 million for operations each year and another $4 million in Special Educational Grants. Add on another $9 million for infrastructure and Chuuk is getting $37 million a year in Compact funds…with an additional $13 million of unallocated funds that have accumulated since the start of the Compact.

Under the Compact FSM has a plan for providing its funding needs up to 2023, and it has an on-going relationship with the US that guarantees assistance of some kind after that. Would Chuuk be able to call on that assistance if it split from FSM? Would it be able to handle the additional costs of a Foreign Affairs Department, the expenses of new ambassadors, and other costs that are now being taken care of by FSM?

Are there any other options that are worth considering? Is a long-term relationship with China a real option, or is this just something to bait the US with? Would the US even consider providing special funding for Chuuk if it were to try to become the fourth freely associated nation?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers. So let me end by strongly suggesting that you press the Chuuk Political Status Commission for a few answers of their own.

Got Something to Say? Go For It!

About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.

Copyright © 2015, WHERESFRAN.ORG, Francis X. Hezel, SJ.