Micronesia president accuses China of bribery, ‘political warfare’
Paneulo claimed that both were embassy officials and that one was later identified as an “intelligence officer” with the Chinese military.
“To be clear: I have had direct threats against my personal safety from PRC officials acting in an official capacity,” he added, also claiming he had to change his phone number because of “incessant” calls from China’s ambassador trying to persuade him to accept Chinese COVID-19 vaccines.
Panuelo also revealed he had been in discussions with Taiwan’s foreign minister about an agreement allowing his country to distance itself from Chinese funding and support – with Taiwan offering to pick up the tab for major projects currently bankrolled by China.
In a letter sent to state governors viewed by Reuters, Panuelo said he met with Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu in February to discuss switching diplomatic recognition.
“I was transparent with Foreign Minister Wu; we project we need an injection of approximately US$50,000,000 to meet our future needs. We can and will receive this, over a three-year period, if and when we establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” he wrote.
“Taiwan assures me that they will simply ‘pick up’ any and all projects that China is currently undertaking.”
Beijing swiftly condemned the claims, accusing Panuelo of “smears and accusations” that “do not accord with the facts”.
“China has always treated all countries, big or small, as equal,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.
“The Chinese side is always willing – on the basis of the One China Principle – to uphold the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, push forward friendly cooperation with Micronesia,” she added, referring to a principle by which countries that recognise Beijing do not have ties with Taiwan.
Panuelo, 58, lost his reelection bid earlier this week, signalling an end to his four-year term as leader – with his successor expected to be elected by the congress in May.
Panuelo urged lawmakers to pass legislation to protect the country against money laundering and promote political integrity.
“Have you personally received a bribe from the PRC? If the answer is ‘no’, you are in the minority,” he said.
The Federated States of Micronesia – which has a population of just over 100,000 people – is closely allied with the United States, maintaining strong ties to Washington even after gaining independence more than three decades ago.
Washington and Beijing are increasingly competing for influence in the Pacific, as China chases more sway in the strategically important region.
Although nestled in the middle of the Pacific, the Federated States of Micronesia straddles a major maritime crossroads and lies southeast of Guam – home to a vast array of US military assets that could prove vital in any conflict over Taiwan.