Palau calls for greater US support as it renegotiates bilateral deal


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pacific island state of Palau, which finds itself at the heart of a geostrategic struggle between the United States and China, called on Wednesday for increased support from the United States to strengthen its infrastructure and its economy.

Palau and two other Pacific island states, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, are currently renegotiating agreements reached with the United States in the 1980s that give Washington responsibility for defense and the right to military bases. in exchange for economic support.

These agreements, known as “Compacts of Free Association”, are due to expire in 2024 in the case of Palau and next year for the other two states. Experts and former US officials warn that island nations could look to China for support if talks break down.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Palau’s Foreign Minister Gustav Aitaro said that during an initial review of his country’s pact, the US administration “offered assistance unacceptably insufficient”.

However, he said, US President Joe Biden had since appointed a special envoy “who we are confident will lead his government to at least meet the minimum needs of Palau so that our people can achieve a level of decent life without having to leave”.

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“It is essential to allow the relationship to continue, as my government wishes,” Aitaro said. “He hopes that the next time we address the General Assembly, we can report agreement on this.”

Aitaro said Palau, with a population of just over 18,000, needed greater financial and programmatic assistance, as well as public and private investment to grow its economy.

Palau is grateful for the assistance provided by the United States and other governments such as Taiwan and Japan, Aitaro said.

“But we need more now, just as we need action to combat and adapt to the rising seas of climate change,” he said, adding that there was a particular need to move the Palau Hospital from lands that are now regularly flooded to higher lands.

Palau had seen some progress since the signing of the pact with the United States, “but too little”.

Aitaro also praised China’s claimed Taiwan and said the United Nations should accept it into the United Nations system.

Aitaro’s remarks came a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to convene a meeting on the sidelines of UNGA aimed at better coordinating aid to the Pacific island region.

Next week, Biden will host a summit with Pacific Island leaders, which his Asia policy chief, Kurt Campbell, said this week reflected “a desire to clearly demonstrate our broader commitment to the Pacific. in the future”.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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