The tiny nation of Palau, which continues to defy pressure from Beijing to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has welcomed a bi-partisan delegation from Australia as concerns grow over China’s rising presence in the Pacific.
- President Panuelo talked maritime security and combating climate change in a bipartisan meeting with Australian MPs
- A six-hour visit to Palikir coincided with the 35th anniversary of Micronesia and Australia’s diplomatic relations
- Pacific Minister Pat Conroy returned to Australia early to join an unscheduled sitting of federal parliament
Foreign Minister Penny Wong flew into Palau’s capital late on Wednesday accompanied by her opposition counterpart Simon Birmingham, on the final stopover of a Pacific tour that’s also taken in Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
During a fleeting stopover in FSM, Senator Wong praised the “real leadership” of the country’s President David Panuelo, who this year urged other Pacific nations to reject a Chinese proposal for a region-wide security agreement.
“This country has been a leader. This has been a difficult time for the Pacific region,” Senator Wong told reporters standing next to the FSM president.
In May Mr Panuelo wrote a letter to Pacific Island Forum (PIF) members warning the proposed security agreement would hand China control of the region’s ocean territory and communications infrastructure.
When the letter was subsequently leaked it revealed details of the secret Chinese proposal sparking diplomatic pushback from Australian and the United States, and the ultimate rejection of the idea by PIF.
“We want the Pacific to continue to be a harmonious Blue Pacific region, and so through the Pacific Islands Forum, we say ‘family first’,” Mr Panuelo said after hosting the Australian delegation.
“We look after each other to make sure that forces from outside do not come and disrupt the peace and security of our region.”
Mr Panuelo was also a vocal critic of the security pact struck by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare with China earlier this year.
During a bilateral meeting with Australian MPs, which included Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy and opposition counterpart Michael McCormack, Mr Panuelo discussed cooperation on maritime security and combating climate change.
Their six-hour visit to the Micronesian capital Palikir coincided with the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between FSM and Australia, which was marked with shells of sakau, the local version of kava, as well as traditional dancing at the Congress building.
Conroy, McCormack miss final leg of Pacific tour
On Wednesday the foreign minister and shadow minister flew into Palau without the other two members of the bi-partisan delegation who were unable to continue on the Pacific tour.
Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy has returned to Australia to attend Thursday’s unscheduled sitting of federal parliament where Labor needs all MPs present to ensure the government has an absolute majority for controlling the House.
His opposition counterpart Michael McCormack was forced to remain in Palikir on Wednesday night following medical treatment, after becoming unwell during Wednesday’s formalities at the FSM Congress.
Before returning to Australia, Senator Wong and Senator Birmingham will meet Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr, who assumed office in January 2021.
Currently just 14 states including Palau diplomatically recognise Taiwan and therefore do not have official relations with China.
In 2019 Solomon Islands switched its allegiance from Taiwan to China, leaving just Palau, Marshall Islands, Narau and Tuvalu as the only Pacific nations to still shun Beijing.