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HONOLULU (June 19, 1997 - PIDP/CPIS) ---US Ambassador William Bodde, Jr. says "it's true" that the United States is "not as interested in the Pacific islands as it once was," and except, possibly, for China, he doesn't think Asian nations are going to increase their presence in the region.

Speaking to a meeting of Hawaii's Pacific and Asian Affairs Council in Honolulu, the former Ambassador to the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tonga, and Tuvalu, said if the US were to close down its intercontinental ballistic missile testing site on the Marshalls atoll of Kwajalein, China might think about moving in. But he doesn't expect the US military to give up the base.

The subject of Kwajalein is certain to be considered, however, as the United States and the Marshall Islands begin negotiations soon over possible renewal of the two country's 15-year Compact of Free Association. The existing Compact, providing the Marshalls with US aid funding totaling close to a billion US dollars, terminates in the year 2001.

Bodde noted that China and the US are the only nations with a full-time Ambassador in the Marshalls. Beijing is there, he said, primarily to keep Taiwan at bay.

As for Japan, the veteran American diplomat and Senior Advisor to the Pacific Basin Development Council says Japan likely will remain about as active in the Pacific as it has been in recent years. It gives them influence, he pointed out, but "they're not going to get seriously interested."

They Pacific Islands no longer have major strategic value militarily, according to Bodde and "they're not economically viable."


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