The small oceanic country of Palau has called on the US military to build military bases in its territory, an archipelago about 1500 kilometers west of the Philippines. Notably, the United States has been in an aggressive posture in this region to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region.
As part of a Pacific tour, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visited the island nation last week and accused Beijing of a “malign influence” and “ongoing destabilizing activities” across the region.
Palau is one of the only few countries (17), which has refused to give up diplomatic relations with Taiwan and side with China. The little independent nation- not bigger than ‘a dot on the map’, as it’s said, has become the focus of geopolitical changes in the region.
The President of Palau later revealed that he had handed over an official letter himself to the U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on his recent visit, urging the US to commit to military infrastructure on its islands.
“Palau’s request to the US military remains simple – build joint-use facilities, then come and use them regularly,” the letter said.
According to the sources, the letter was marked “by hand delivery, Kror, Palau”, addressed to Esper and mentioned the island nation’s eagerness to host land bases, port facilities and airfields for the U.S. military.
While, Palau’s vested interest also lies in the patrolling of its maritime territory and threats from other nations, as it does not possess any formal military and rely on the United States for their defense.
Tommy Remengesau Jr, the President of Palau, also suggested that a U.S. Coast Guard vessel’s deployment would help monitor its vast maritime assets, which covers an ocean territory the size of Spain.
Under a compact of free association signed with Washington in 1994, the United States is responsible for its defense; however, it does not maintain any permanent military presence there. The compact allows the US military access to the islands.
“We should use the mechanisms of the compact to establish a regular US military presence in Palau. The US military’s right to establish defence sites in the Republic of Palau has been under-utilized for the entire duration of the compact,” the President’s letter said.
Remengesau had also urged for growth of U.S. military presence in the region, when he stated, “a stronger US presence in the Pacific, we want to see that happen”, during a meeting with Donald Trump last year.
Palau is also in the list of South-East Asian nations that feel threatened with aggressive Chinese expansion in the area. “There are so many things that the US can show leadership, as you can see China seems to be the main nation showing initiative and aggressively coming to the Pacific and establishing their mark,” he said.