Palau seeks more US help as it renegotiates old pact

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 American support to build its infrastructure and economy.

Palau and two other Pacific island states, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, are renegotiating agreements made in the 1980s that give the US 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 that these island nations could look to China for support should the talks fail.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Palau's Foreign Minister Gustav Aitaro said the US had initially "proposed unacceptably inadequate assistance", but that US President Joe Biden has 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.

Palau, with its 18,000-strong population, needed greater financial and programme assistance, as well as public and private investment, he said, adding that it was grateful for the help that the US and other governments, such as Taiwan and Japan, had provided.

"But we need more now, just as we need measures to combat and adapt to climate change's rising seas," Mr Aitaro said.

His remarks came a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to host a meeting 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 reflected "a desire to demonstrate clearly our larger commitment to the Pacific going forward".

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2022, with the headline Palau seeks more US help as it renegotiates old pact. Subscribe