The Daily Telegraph
Chinese pair ‘plotted to set up Pacific island micro-state’
A CHINESE couple have been accused of plotting to form a micro-state in the Marshall Islands amid Beijing’s push to expand its influence in the region.
Cary Yan, 50, and Gina Zhou, 34, are said by the US to have tried to establish a semi-autonomous region similar to Hong Kong in the Rongelap Atoll.
They are accused of bribing officials and of working to entice investors to the islands to set up their own state.
The Rongelap is a scarcely populated atoll which was devastated by the US destruction of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1954.
Rates of stillbirths and thyroid cancer soared in the region and in 1985 the entire population of Rongelap was evacuated to another island.
Department of Justice (DOJ) documents indicting the pair allege that they posed as officers linked to a non-governmental organisation in New York and tried to bribe Marshall Islands officials while in US territory.
Prosecutors said Mr Yan and Ms Zhou floated this idea of the “Rongelap Special Economic Zone,” while offering cash bribes to try to influence Marshall Islands politicians to create the zone.
Their NGO also allegedly paid for officials to go to Hong Kong on an allexpenses-paid trip.
Mr Yan and Ms Zhou pleaded not guilty to money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The charges come against a backdrop of growing tension between China and the US in the Indo-pacific.
The Pacific archipelago is one of three nations closely linked to the US through treaties known as Compacts of Free Association (COFA), that grant the Pentagon virtually unrestricted military access in exchange for a security guarantee and benefits for citizens.
The Marshall Islands were wrested from Japan by the US during World War II. The small nation of 58,000 is widely known for the Bikini Atoll, the coral reef where the US tested nuclear weapons in the 1940s and 50s.
The country gained independence in 1986 although the US still maintains “full authority and responsibility”.
Mr Yan and Ms Zhou were arrested in Thailand in November 2020 and later extradited to New York.
Damian Williams, a DOJ attorney, said the bribery scheme was “designed to influence and manipulate the legislative process” to financially benefit themselves and their associates while violating “the integrity of democratic processes.”
The Marshall Islands is also one of only 14 countries that have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In 2020, a senior Taiwanese government official told The Telegraph there were concerns about the motivations behind Mr Yan’s business interests.