A tiny Pacific nation that has felt the wrath of Beijing for its continuing ties to Taiwan is urging global leaders to also work closely with the democratic island that China claims as its own territory.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr has restated his country’s unwavering diplomatic recognition of Taiwan while hosting a bipartisan Australian parliamentary delegation led by Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
“The 23 million people that live in Taiwan need a voice,” Whipps told reporters after holding talks with Senator Wong and her opposition counterpart Simon Birmingham.
“What we’ve told China is that, as friends, you shouldn’t tell your friends who their friends can be.”
“If you want to be our friend, they’re our friend also. But you’re not going to tell us we can’t be their friend, which is what they want to tell us to do.”
At the recent UN climate change talks in Egypt, Beijing criticised Taiwan’s allies who pushed for the country to speak at the global forum.
But Whipps insists the Asian nation should be able to contribute.
“They should be allowed to participate in the WHO [World Health Organization], they should be allowed to participate at UNFCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change],” he said.
“I mean, these are, these are issues that impact all of us, and 23 million people in a country of that size should not be denied or allowed to participate. So that’s Palau’s view.”
Senator Wong responded that Australia maintains a bi-partisan One China policy that only allows for unofficial dealings with Taiwan but said all countries needed to tackle global challenges together.
“Whether it’s COVID, or climate, we need everybody to be part of the solution. So we want to work through how that can occur in those forums,” she said.
Her comments come as the Australian government contemplates whether to approve bids by Taiwan and China to join a regional trade agreement known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership [CPTPP].
Over recent years Palau has been subjected to economic coercion from Beijing for resisting pressure to switch diplomatic allegiances away from Taiwan, including a reduction in Chinese tourists.
In the past up to 80 percent of Palau’s tourists came from China, but in 2017 Beijing removed the picturesque Pacific nation from its approved destination list.
“They’ve turned off the faucet, played games with us. But you know, I don’t think that’s the way you treat true friendship and true partnership. And I think Palau has seen that over the years,” Whipps said.
Palau is one of just 14 states to maintain diplomatic recognition of Taiwan instead of China, as Beijing works to gradually reduce its allies on the world stage.
Solomon Islands and Kiribati are the most recent Pacific nations to sever their ties with Taiwan, after the Chinese government increased infrastructure and aid spending to support their developing economies.