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Micronesia leader accuses China of bribery, threats in Taiwan bid

David Panuelo says Beijing is waging a “political war” against its island nation as part of a campaign to take Taiwan.

The outgoing leader of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), one of the world’s smallest countries, has accused China of bribing officials and making “direct threats against my personal safety” as part of an effort to take over self-governing Taiwan.

In a 13-page letter to Congress and state governors, President David Panuelo accused Beijing of waging a campaign of “political warfare” that included overt activity and covert action, including “bribery, psychological warfare and blackmail.”

Panuelo, who is due to leave office in May, said China was trying to interfere with the FSM to ensure it would join Beijing, or remain neutral, in the event of a war over self-governing Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist Party claims its territory.

The FSM, home to fewer than 115,000 people and located about 2,900 km (1,800 mi) northeast of Australia, is independent but receives financial support and defense guarantees from the United States under a so-called pact of free association.

“However, the practical consequences of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean area and resources therein, and our security space, apart from the impact on our sovereignty, is that it increases the likelihood of China coming into conflict with Australia, Japan , the United States and New Zealand, on the day Beijing decides to invade Taiwan,” Panuelo said in the March 9 letter, which was leaked to multiple media outlets and viewed by Al Jazeera.

“To be clear, that is China’s long-term goal: to take Taiwan. Quiet if possible; by war if necessary.”

Panuelo said he was followed by Chinese men, one of whom was an intelligence officer, when he attended the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji last year.

“You can imagine my surprise when I was followed in Fiji last July at the Pacific Islands Forum by two Chinese men… and my continued surprise when I learned that I had several cabinets and staff who had previously met him, and in the FSM, said Panuelo.

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

Panuelo also accused Chinese officials of bribing local officials to be “compliant” and “silent”.

“That’s a heavy word, but it’s an accurate description anyway. What else do you call it when an elected official gives an envelope of money after a meal at the Chinese embassy or after an inauguration? What else do you call it when a senior official discreetly receives a smartphone after a visit to Beijing,” he said.

Panuelo also indicated that he is in favor of official recognition of Taipei, which has only a handful of diplomatic allies, and said he met with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu last month to inquire about what “potential aid” his country could get in case of a transfer.

“I was transparent with Foreign Minister Wu; we estimate that we need an injection of about $50 million to meet our future needs,” he said. “We can and will receive this over a period of three years, if and when we establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan.”

Panuelo said Taiwan had agreed to provide funding and take over unfinished projects started by Beijing.

Small Pacific island nations such as FSM, which consists of about 600 islands scattered across the Western Pacific, have become battlegrounds for the growing geopolitical rivalry between China and the US in recent years.

Al Jazeera has contacted the Taiwan Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Australia for comment.