Nobody should tell Palau that it cannot befriend other countries, Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr yesterday told an international news conference, citing pressure from Beijing for Ngerulmud to sever ties with Taipei.
Whipps and his delegation arrived in Taipei on Sunday to celebrate the launch of a Taiwan-Palau “travel corridor” this week, with more than 100 Taiwanese tourists scheduled to leave for Palau on a pilot tour on Thursday.
In addition to the significance of the “travel bubble” with Taiwan, Whipps was asked how he withstood pressure from China on Palau’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
“We are a very small country, and we believe it was important to have friends and befriend everyone. We also believe that nobody should tell us that we cannot be somebody else’s friends,” he said.
“A true friend is with you no matter what. Taiwan has always demonstrated the value of our partnership and friendship, and they have been with us through thick and thin. This pandemic is a demonstration of that partnership, where we get together and solve problems,” he said.
While an influx of Chinese tourists in Palau helped boost the local economy, Whipps said they were like a “teaser,” and the country’s tourism dropped after Beijing banned Chinese tourists from visiting the country.
“If you are in a relationship, you don’t beat your partners to make them love you. You should build the relationship on trust and benefit each other, instead of forcing others to play a political game,” Whipps said.
On March 17, Taiwan and Palau jointly announced the creation of the “travel bubble.”
The travel corridor would help put Palau on the path to economic recovery, as 42 percent of workers in Palau’s private sector have been laid off due to the loss of tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whipps said.
To keep the government running, it had to borrow to cover about 40 percent of its budget, he said.
“It is crucial to keep the economy back on track. We also need to resume regular flights between the two countries so patients with cancer and heart diseases can be treated in Taiwan, instead of having to wait for monthly charter flights,” he said.
“The main reason why we are able to open the corridor to accept foreign visitors from Taiwan is that we have been vaccinated, with 50 percent of our population having received the first dose of the vaccines,” he added.
Palau remains COVID-19 free, with zero cases to date, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said, adding that Taiwan has also been recognized by the international community for its efforts in combating the virus.
“The visit this time carried great significance. They [Whipps and his delegation] are here to launch the two countries’ travel bubble and to witness this important moment. The trip also underlines Taiwan’s and Palau’s anti-epidemic achievements, as well as the close and cordial ties we share. This is a milestone and showcases our relationship amid the pandemic,” Wu said.
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