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China in Yap

It's probably been well over year since I posted about an initial announcement of Chinese interest in developing an enormous resort complex on the Micronesian island of Yap. For a while it seemed like the chiefs on Yap were going to say no to this incredible intrusion into the Yapese social and economic fabric, but now one village has given the go ahead. I don't think anything has actually happened yet, but my brother has now found a story about resistance to the development: "Chinese Culture Clash on Yap". Some of the people interviewed are people we know. Carmen Mutgnuy was somebody my parents knew when we lived out there in the '60s, and Vincent Figir was the governor when I was out there with my brother's family and niece in 2002 and once offered us a ride home after a village dance.

It's horrifying and fascinating to watch this slow motion train wreck in action. As I said to my family in response to my brother forwarding article, it's not as though any foreign powers who have ruled the islands since the late nineteenth century have brought any happiness. But if the Chinese corporation develops the resort it envisions, the tourists will outnumber the natives, and as my mom pointed out, there won't be many Yapese who profit from it. The conundrum an island like Yap faces is that it has been forcibly inserted into a cash economy, and yet it doesn't have any products or raw resources that anybody wants to buy. Under the Americans, they've received cash in exchange for our right to use the islands as military bases. This money is going to dry up in the near future, because we are no longer planning to re-fight World War II, island by island. Maybe Chinese development is the only deal on offer now.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
On the one hand, I wonder just how much more intrusive into the local culture the resort will be than the military bases have been.

On the other, count my deepest skepticism towards any economic development project whose backers tout how beneficial it will be to the local economy. How rarely do those ever turn out as expected. The jobs turn out to be temporary, or McJobs, or go to imported workers rather than locals. The jaundiced eye that is so frequently turned to government, I apply to big business and all its works.
Mar. 14th, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC)
There has never a major US military base on Yap Island itself. The US was just reserving the right to use the island for a military base if the need arose. There was a Coast Guard station there back in the '60s, but it was a small installation that basically monitored the weather.

But I think the thing that I find so hard to digest about the Chinese proposal is that they eventually want 20,000 hotel rooms on an island with a population well under 10,000 people. On the other hand there is no doubt that Yapese culture has already been enormously transformed from what it was 150 years ago. It's just that there's never been a point when there have been more foreigners on the island than natives. (In contrast to Guam or Hawai'i, for example, although now all Hawai'ians are Americans, so Bob's your uncle.)
Apr. 11th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
I suspect there won't be much money in it for anybody let alone the Yapese. Canberra is regularly visited by groups of 'official' Chinese tourists. As I understand it such groups are being rewarded for service to the government or private companies with a cheap trip to Australia. To keep prices down these tour groups are highly regulated, only going where the tour bus takes them, eating at designated restaurants, staying at designated hotels etc. A resort on Yap would work well for such reward tourism as every part of the process could be made as cheap as possible with the resort and the airline servicing it acting as a non-profit, government service to the private sector. I assume it would be a very insular operation, built by the Chinese, staffed by the Chinese, supplied by the Chinese because that's how they've handled infrastructure projects in Africa. If so then your mother is right about few locals profiting from the intrusion. More than that I think it's likely that the resort will significantly intrude on the island in various obvious ways; closed beaches, extended periods of aircraft noise, heavy bus traffic between the airport and resort, sewage and rubbish in general. The advantage of Yap to the Chinese being of course that it's less able to impose expensive restrictions on a resort once it's in place than richer nations.
Apr. 12th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
Alas, I think everything you say is very, very likely. I'm just not sure there are any good options for Yap on the horizon. It looks like they have to choose between bad ones.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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