[ABC] The tiny Micronesian island that’s about to get a whole lot busier
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The island of Yap is a speck in the ocean with a population of just 7,000 and it’s about to undergo a radical change with plans by a Chinese developer to build a massive resort.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Micronesian island of Yap is a speck in the ocean, with a population of only 7,000. It’s remote and largely untouched – so remote in fact that flying in and out of Yap is no easy feat. So why would Chinese tourism developers want to invest millions in the hard-to-reach island. One giant group is already proposing to build a mega resort on the 100 square kilometre atoll. The plan is dividing the population as the Yapese feel drawn into the strategic and economic rivalry between the US and China in the nearby South China Sea. Ben Bohane reports from Yap.
BEN BOHANE, REPORTER: It’s the annual cultural day on Yap, the westernmost island state of the Federated States of Micronesia in the North Pacific. Watching on are diplomatic representatives from America and China.
In the nearby South China seas, they are both displaying military might, but here in Micronesia, the competition is more economic, yet just as strategic.
At a time when US funding is dwindling, China is stepping in with major investments.
The Chinese have big plans for little Yap.
China’s Entertainment and Travel Group, known as the ETG, is proposing to build a mega resort on the island.
YANG GANG, ENT. & TRAVEL GROUP REPRESENTATIVE: ETG’s plan is just to want to develop some tourism facilities like hotel rooms and resorts and also include some supporting infrastructure projects, such as some road and also some sports facilities.
BEN BOHANE: The original plan was for 10,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and casinos for this island of just 7,000 people. Local concern has forced the company to scale plans back to 1,500 rooms and no casino.
NICK FAJIR, YAP SENATOR: So far it’s like a quarter of the whole state of Yap or less than that is taken by them. When the ETG first came in, they had the plan for the whole state. But they face some resistance ’cause the people are wondering what’s – it’s like turning Yap into Shanghai.
BEN BOHANE: Many on this island have welcomed the prospect of such investment, potentially running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Al Ganang and his brother Bruno own the Village View Hotel on the north-east coast of Yap. In 200,2 a devastating cyclone damaged their resort and they’ve struggled to repay the bank loan, so they’ve decided to sign land leases with ETG.
AL GANANG, LOCAL HOTELIER: We have signed I think the agreement. We’ve looked at other proposed – proposal. We thought this one was the best one.
NICK FAJIR: My concern is the fact that our government is sort of, like, opening the door to the outside investors and we have not prepared our people within. Nobody advising the landowner, so that’s my – my concern.
BEN BOHANE: But as tensions rise in the nearby South China Sea, some suggest there may be more to the mega resort than meets the eye.
CLEMENT MULALAP, YAP SENATOR: Why would China be interested in Yap? And so you begin to wonder if there is any other ulterior motive. I know and I think Deng Hong, the gentleman of the ETG, has public stated that the Chinese Government is also behind this project. And so, you know, on that basis you can draw your conclusions.
BEN BOHANE: Yang Gang denies ETG has any links to the Chinese Government or military.
YANG GANG: No. No any connection with the Chinese military.
BEN BOHANE: Don Evans is a long-term resident of Yap. He’s worried by what he sees in neighbouring Palau.
DON EVANS, GM, YAP VISITORS BUREAU: If we get massive tourism, which I understand is happening in Palau now, then it’s gonna really hurt the social environment and the natural environment as well. So, our goal is to increase tourism, but we would really like to perhaps go in such a way that it would mean development for the Yapese people themselves. We’re trying to encourage local ownership of small boutique hotels and things like that.
BEN BOHANE: Yap is considered the most traditional of all the Micronesian islands and some fear their culture may be at stake with such huge developments.
CLEMENT MULALAP: They want to create a village – what they call native villages, so where natives will stay. I mean, when you look at those, we are prostituting our culture and tradition.