Guam: strategic island in the Pacific

Paris (AFP) –


The Pacific island of Guam, a US territory and site of strategic US military installations, is at the center of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's missile programme.

North Korea said Wednesday that it is considering strikes near US installations in Guam with its intermediate range ballistic missiles, state news agency KCNA reported.

The threat came hours after US President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with "fire and fury" over its missile program and days after the UN Security Council levied new sanctions on North Korea over its growing nuclear arsenal.

- Spanish, then American -

Guam, measuring 550 square kilometres (212 square miles), was discovered in 1521 by Portuguese explorer Magellan, then occupied in 1526 by Spanish seafarers.

The island became an American colony under the 1898 Treaty of Paris which brought an end to the Spanish-American war. During World War II it was invaded by Japan at the beginning of the Pacific War, and liberated in July 1944.

- US territory, strategic site -

Guam is a non-incorporated terrritory of the United States, like Puerto Rico.

Its 162,000 inhabitants, of which two fifths come from the Chamorro indigenous group, are American citizens, but with limited rights.

They cannot vote in US elections and the island's only representative in Congress has no right to vote.

There have been many calls for an autonomy referendum but these has been blocked by a US federal tribunal.

Republican Eddie Calvo has since 2011 had the position of governor.

In Guam, which is on the UN's list of non-autonomous territories, 45,000 people receive food aid and benefit from US health care.

- Strategic military base -

A rugged, tropical island in the western Pacific Ocean, Guam is the largest and most populous island in the group called the Mariana Islands. It is currently a base for some 6,000 US soldiers on an air and naval base.

It was the departure point for US B-52 bombers attacked Hanoi during the 1955-1975 Vietnam war.

- Tourist base -

The military presence contributes to the local economy, which also depends on tourism.

Beaches, hotel complexes and duty free shops attracted more than 1.5 million visitors in 2016, mostly Japanese and Korean, and the tourism sector provides a third of the territory's jobs.

Income per capita came to $35,439 in 2015.