Taiwanese Foreign minister uses Palau trip to warn China is ‘forcing itself’ into the Pacific

25-Jan-2021 Intellasia | ABC Net | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Taiwan’s Foreign minister Joseph Wu has said the international community now understands “what China is about”, and that more countries are questioning Beijing’s activities in the Pacific Island region.

Speaking to reporters in Palau, where he was attending the inauguration of the island nation’s new President Surangel Whipps Jr., Wu accused China of “forcing itself into the Pacific”.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warns against China's "expansion of authoritarianism" in the Pacific.(ABC News)

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warns against China’s “expansion of authoritarianism” in the Pacific.(ABC News)

“There’s already a very clear awareness of what China is about … China’s way of forcing itself into the Pacific is going to cause strategic problems,” he said.

Palau is one of a dwindling number of Pacific countries that maintains diplomatic relationships with Taiwan, with Kiribati and Solomon Islands switching allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019.

Both those countries were reportedly offered large sums in foreign aid by China before making the switch.

Wu said Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative, the signature foreign policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping which aims to build infrastructure in developing nations through cheap loans from Chinese banks, was creating a “debt trap” for developing countries.

“China’s One Belt, One Road initiative has been moving all the way into the Pacific,” Wu said.

“What it does is lead China’s very strong political influence, at the same time as leaving many countries in this region in a very serious debt trap.”

Several Pacific nations including Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are believed to be some of the most heavily indebted countries in the world to China.

Both Canberra and Washington have voiced concerns about the level of Chinese loans in the region, fearing it would allow Beijing greater control over the Pacific’s assets.

Palau’s new President warns of ‘foreign aggressors’

Wu’s comments echoed those of Whipps, who in a speech following his swearing-in, warned of “foreign aggressors”.

Close observers said the comment was directed at China.

While most of his speech was in Palauan, the new President briefly broke into English in a clear message for those listening overseas.

He thanked partners like Australia, the United States, Japan and Taiwan for assisting Palau with its COVID-19 response and development, and said those countries “helped us be protected from our foreign aggressors and help combat climate change”.

Palau is considered COVID-free and, thanks to its close relationship with the United States, is poised to become one of the world’s first countries to be mostly vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Palau is one of just over a dozen countries in the world that maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of China. China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province and does not allow diplomatic partners to recognise both Beijing and Taipei.

“Although our friendships at times may not be taken well by others some nations have even tried to muscle their way into our country, as they have elsewhere Palau has rightfully refuted these aggressive actions and will continue to do so,” Whipps said.

Wu said he “recognised” the Palauan President was talking about China in his remarks, and urged Australia and other democracies to fight Beijing’s “outward expansion of authoritarianism”.

He also said Taiwan had been “thinking about military strategy” in order to defend against Beijing’s threats, pointing to multi billion-dollar arms deals made between Taipei and the outgoing Trump administration.

“Those kinds of weapons are necessary for Taiwan to be able to defend itself against the possible Chinese assault,” Wu said.

“We need to make more friends understand … Taiwan as a frontline state of democracies that is guarding against the expansionism of Chinese authoritarianism.”

Hopes for a Palau-Taiwan travel bubble

President Whipps announced the creation of a “sterile corridor” to allow for COVID-safe travel between Palau and Taiwan.

“The ‘sterile corridor’ between our countries will revitalise personal, medical, educational and business relationships between our countries,” he said.

“It will boost Palau’s economy, in our time of desperate need … For the purposes of COVID-19, a trip through the new sterile corridor will be like taking a domestic flight.”

Taiwan’s foreign minister agreed the proposed travel bubble would attract many Taiwanese people to Palau, but warned that “strict measures” had to be maintained to protect both countries from a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think Palau is going to attract lots of Taiwanese tourists who want to go abroad for some enjoyment,” Wu said.

“Still, even though Palau is COVID-free, one of the reasons why it’s able to maintain [its] COVID-free [status] is because of its very strict measures.”

Palau whose economy depends heavily on international tourism has said its private sector unemployment rate was approaching 50 per cent because of job losses related to the pandemic.




Category: China, Taiwan

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