The US is refusing to engage with the Marshall Islands on compensation for environmental and health damage caused by the dozens of US nuclear weapons tests carried out in the 1940s and 50s, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
The Marshall Islands are home to a major US military base and are essentially treated as a US territory under an agreement known as the Compact of Free Association. But the agreement is due to expire soon, and the dispute over the nuclear weapons test has some members of Congress concerned.
The US lawmakers are not worried that the people of the Marshall Islands haven’t been properly compensated. Instead, they fear China could move in. “China is all too ready to step in and provide the desperately needed infrastructure and climate resiliency investment that is sought by these long-time partners,” 10 Democratic and Republican House members wrote in a letter to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
In the 1980s, the US agreed to give the Marshall Islands a $150 million settlement, but this amount fell well short of what is needed to clean up all of the radioactive debris. “Everyone knows the negotiations at that time were not fair or equitable,” Marshallese Senator David Paul told AP. “When you look at the total cost of property damage and the ongoing health issues to date, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s an insult.”
A US officials admitted to AP that Washington had “stonewalled” talks on the US’s nuclear legacy. “We know that’s important, but there is a full and final settlement, and both sides agreed to it. So, that issue is just not subject to being reopened,” the official said.
AP also spoke with James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap Atoll on the Marshall Islands. Like hundreds of other Marshallese, Matayoshi had been displaced from his native atoll by the nuclear weapons tests and hasn’t returned. His late mother was pregnant at the time of one of the blasts and gave birth to a stillborn baby due to radiation exposure.
Concerning China, Matayoshi said officials are seeking Asian investments, and any such deals wouldn’t be about Chinese influence. “It would be a business transaction. We don’t advocate for war or any superpower influence. But we want to be able to live in our backyard, and enjoy life here,” he said.