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VOA Asia Weekly: Pacific Allies React to Final Security Pact Funding Approval

VOA Asia Weekly: Pacific Allies React to Final Security Pact Funding Approval
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US House passes measure that could lead to TikTok sale. Deadly northern China gas leak explosion. Japan's commercial space setback. Filipino sailors return home after Houthi missile attack.

Pacific island allies react to the U.S. passing critical security aid for the region.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly.

I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington.

That story is just ahead, but first, making headlines: The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would give TikTok's Chinese owner, ByteDance, about six months to sell its U.S. assets. Lawmakers are concerned that the short video app, which has about 170 million U.S. users, poses a national security threat. The measure now goes to the U.S. Senate, where its prospects are unclear.

China, Iran, and Russia have launched a joint naval drill in the Gulf of Oman, just northwest of the Red Sea. The three countries deployed more than 20 ships, support vessels, combat boats, and several naval helicopters for this collaborative exercise. According to Iranian state media, this marks their fourth drill since 2019. The goal is to improve trade and the joint efforts to counter piracy and terrorism.

A suspected gas leak caused an explosion at a restaurant in China’s northern province of Hebei, tearing off building facades, damaging cars, and scattering debris. The state-controlled broadcaster CCTV said the blast killed at least two people and injured 26 others. Beijing issued detailed safety instructions for gas cookers and appliances last year after a restaurant blew up, killing 31 people.

A commercial rocket exploded shortly after liftoff on Wednesday morning in central Japan. The cause is under investigation. Space One aimed to achieve Japan’s first private-sector launch, deploying a government-made satellite into orbit around the Earth for information gathering and monitoring potential threats from North Korea.

Eleven Filipino sailors safely returned to the Philippines on Tuesday, nearly a week after surviving a Houthi missile attack off the coast of Yemen. They were part of the crew aboard the Barbados-flagged Greek-operated merchant ship, True Confidence. Three sailors died in last week’s attack, including two Filipinos.

Long-awaited critical funds to counter China in the Pacific have been approved for three U.S. allies: Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. Over the weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law $7 billion over 20 years in funding for the Compacts of Free Association as part of a partial government funding bill, as VOA’s Jessica Stone reports.

With this vote in the U.S. Senate, partial funding flows to the U.S. government.

For the tiny Pacific nation of Palau — a U.S. ally — it’s a lifeline.

“It’s not October first, but it’s at least within this fiscal year, and really just in time.”

Palau maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but its economy relies on Chinese tourists, who dropped by more than 50% in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, tanking the nation’s economy.

Whipps says he recently met with investors from Singapore and Japan to chart a more sustainable direction.

“Opening up new markets so that we're diversified and more resilient, not so dependent on the Chinese tourism, which could be weaponized.”

Palau’s funds come through an agreement that provides $7 billion dollars in economic aid over 20 years to Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. In exchange, the us gets exclusive access to a broad swath of the pacific – and the right to turn others away, including China.

“Simply having the freedom of navigation through this part of the Pacific is really critical, and if we lose that, we also lose direct access to our allies in the Philippines and Australia.”

The agreement was signed last fall, but Congress took five months to fund it. The delay raised doubts about Washington’s commitment to the Pacific, warned Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine.

“Our nation has been a steadfast ally of the United States, but that should not be taken for granted,”

In a video message on Facebook, Wesley Simina, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, or FSM, acknowledged the long wait:

“At the end of the day, the FSM and the US reached an agreement, on an outcome that I’m confident will benefit both our nations.”

An agreement, these leaders say, that provides new motivation to deepen economic and security cooperation in a part of the world that’s critical to American security.

Jessica Stone, VOA News Washington.

Visit for the most up-to-date stories.

I’m Chris Casquejo.

Finally, it's the holy month of Ramadan.

Muslims in Indonesia began celebrating Ramadan this Monday. Dozens of congregants gathered at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque waiting for prayer time and to break their fast later in the evening.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.