Despite pressure from China to do otherwise, Palau intends to continue diplomatic relations with Taiwan, said Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr.
He noted, however, that the number of countries with a similar policy toward Taiwan has dropped from 30 to 14 since Taiwan and Palau established diplomatic relations in 1999.
“(The drop in the number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies) is concerning because it’s really a sign of escalation in this fight between Taiwan and China in thinking ‘the status quo is unacceptable and we need to change that,’” Whipps told the Pacific Island Times.
“That’s concerning to us because that means are we headed to a more difficult situation. We’ve seen the aggression in Russia and Ukraine, and of course, nobody in the Pacific wants to see that happen out here.”
Whipps said Palau appreciates Taiwan’s friendship and the assistance it has provided in health care, agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure, education, and such investments as hotels, he said.
“They’ve had a Chinese agriculture mission on Palau since the early ‘80s, before Palau became independent,” he said. “Food security is important.”
China views Taiwan as a defiant, breakaway province and has told Whipps that Palau should break ties with Taiwan.
“I’ve told the Chinese, ‘We’re friends with everybody; we don’t have any enemies,’ but at the same time, you cannot tell us we cannot be friends with Taiwan, that’s our choice,’” Whipps said. “They say, ‘We want to have diplomatic relations with you but you need to stop your illegal activities and not recognize Taiwan.’”
China says it considers diplomatic ties with Taiwan to be illegal.
“And I said, ‘We’re a free country and we believe in freedom and democracy,’” Whipps said. “’We’re free to choose who our friends are and we’re going to continue to choose who our friends are and nobody’s going to tell us who they should or shouldn’t be.’ We share the same values, we promote freedom and democracy, and we believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific and we need to cooperate and continue to work toward that.”
The Chinese have told him to “join the rest of the world in doing the right thing” like the United States, Australia, Japan,” he said.
Palauans are, of course, not unaware of the size and capabilities of China in virtually all areas. “One of the concerns for the Palauan people is that now that the U.S has decided to put a radar site in Palau, we’ve become a bull’s eye,” Whipps said. “Before, we weren’t a bull’s eye.”
“We continue to stand by Taiwan,” Whipps said. “They’ve been a strong partner and a strong ally for the last 23 years. We share the same values and the same culture too, in a lot of ways.”.
SOURCE: PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES/PACNEWS