WASHINGTON – 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 greater US support to build its infrastructure and 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 defence responsibility and the right to military bases in return for economic support.
These accords, known as ‘Compacts of Free Association’, are set to expire in 2024 in the case of Palau and next year for the two other states.
Experts and former US officials warn the island nations could look to China for support should the talks fail.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Palau’s Foreign Minister Gustav Aitaro said that in an initial review of his country’s compact, the US administration “proposed unacceptably inadequate assistance.”
However, he said, US President Joe Biden had since then appointed a special envoy “who we trust will get his government to at least meet Palau’s minimum needs so that our people can attain a decent standard of living without having to leave.”
“This is essential to enabling the relationship to endure, as my government wants,” Mr Aitaro said. “It hopes that when we next address the General Assembly, we will be able to report an agreement in this regard.”
Mr Aitaro said Palau, with a population of just over 18,000, needed greater financial and programme assistance, as well as public and private investment to expand its economy.
Palau was grateful for the help United States and other governments such as Taiwan and Japan, have provided, Mr Aitaro said.
“But we need more now, just as we need measures to combat and adapt to climate change’s rising seas,” he said, adding that there was a particular need to move Palau’s hospital from land that now regularly floods to higher ground.
Palau had seen some development since signing the compact with the United States, “but too little.”
Mr Aitaro also praised Taiwan and said the United Nations should accept it into the UN system.
Mr Aitaro’s remarks came a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to host a meeting on the sidelines of UNGA aimed at better coordinating assistance to the Pacific island region.
Next week Mr Biden will host a summit with Pacific island leaders, which his Asia policy chief Kurt Campbell said this week reflected “a desire to demonstrate clearly our larger commitment to the Pacific going forward.” REUTERS