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Marshall Islands President survives no confidence vote amid alleged Chinese conspiracy

Hilda Heine says vote of no confidence a ‘smokescreen’ for Chinese interests to depose her

President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands speaking at the UN General Assembly.

President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands speaking at the UN General Assembly. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine narrowly survived a vote of no confidence on Nov. 12, amid what she described as an influence campaign mounted by China.

Heine said the no confidence motion was the result of her opposition to a Chinese businessman’s proposed tax haven within the Micronesian nation, amid concerns the proposal could bring about international crime and ceding of sovereignty.

The result of the no confidence motion was a 16-16 tie, one short of the required 17 votes to dislodge the president. One member of the 33 seat parliament was absent, as the person was abroad seeking medical treatment.

The motion was nominally brought about in opposition to the controversial plan for the Micronesian nation to issue its own cryptocurrency as legal tender alongside its official currency, the U.S. dollar. On Nov. 5, eight senators put forth a motion of no confidence against the first female president of the Marshall Islands.

Heine believes the motion was a pretense to unseat her presidency, due to her opposition to Chinese interests and the proposed Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region, or RASA scheme.

The RASA scheme would allow the remote atoll to become a tax haven with relaxed visa laws, in a bid to lure in international companies. The scheme was developed by Chinese businessman and Marshall Islands citizen Cary Yan, reported AFP.

The Marshall Islands government said the tax scheme could lead to problems surrounding money laundering as well as other crimes, and the scheme has perked the attention of the U.S., who provides security for the Micronesian nation under the Compact of Free Association.

Heine told Radio New Zealand that the no confidence motion was “baseless” and the proposed tax scheme was a means to create a “country within our own country."

Heine said she has no direct evidence of Chinese interests orchestrating the tax scheme, but said "we have to be cautious knowing what the geopolitical situation is in the Pacific region, and I think it's important for the government to do its own due diligence and make sure that the sovereignty of the Pacific is secure.

“We are a small country and it is easy for foreign elements to influence individual people.”

The Marshall Islands is one of Taiwan’s six diplomatic allies in Oceania. The two nations enjoy visa-free travel and Heine visited Taiwan for an official visit in July.