Taipei – The President of Palau on Monday compared the small Pacific nation’s ties to China to an abusive relationship, reiterating that he had no plans to let Taiwan down on an official visit to Taipei.
Surangel Whipps is in Taiwan to launch what is billed as Asia’s first travel bubble as his country seeks to boost its coronavirus-hit tourism.
Palau is one of 15 nations in the world to officially recognize self-governing democratic Taiwan over China.
Beijing, which claims Taiwan, has used a mixture of threats and lures in recent years to try to encourage countries to swap allegiances.
Chinese tourists were flocking to Palau, but the influx died down in 2018 when Beijing turned off the taps, a common tactic used to pressure countries.
Whipps said Chinese visitors had given Palau’s economy “a big boost” as they made up nearly half of tourists to his country, but the boom was “like a teaser.”
“Next thing you know, we have been banned and tourism abandoned,” he told reporters in Taipei.
“If you’re in a relationship, I use this example – you don’t beat your wife to make her love you.”
“You must continue to build a relationship based on trust, for the mutual benefit of both countries, and not be forced to do things because there is a political game we are trying to play.”
Beijing opposes any official exchange between Taiwan and other countries.
This has intensified the pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, as it views the island as a de facto sovereign nation. The number of Chinese tourists has also fallen to Taiwan.
For decades, China and Taiwan have vied for their influence on diplomatic battlefields, especially in the Pacific and Latin America, with the two sides offering aid and support to small island states in return for their recognition.
Beijing has successfully poached seven Taiwanese diplomats, including two in the Pacific, since Tsai’s election in 2016.
Palau is among Taiwan’s four remaining allies in the Asia-Pacific region along with the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu.
Whipps said China’s carrot and stick approach was “counterproductive.”
“Carrots help influence people’s opinions. … But like I said, if you give the carrot, don’t tell me I can’t see that other person, I can’t talk to that other person, ”he said.
“We also believe that no one should tell us that we can’t be someone else’s friend.”
The Whipps will return Thursday with a group of 110 Taiwanese tourists for the start of the weekly bubble holiday flights.
Taiwanese officials said the first tour group’s 110 seats in Palau were sold out.
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