TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr. on Monday (March 29) extolled his country's friendship with Taiwan at his first press conference since arriving to promote the new travel bubble, accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Palau.
Ahead of a state banquet with Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and other Taiwanese officials at the Regent Taipei hotel, Whipps and his delegation were welcomed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安) and Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) at a press conference.
While U.S. Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland, who arrived with the Palauan delegation Sunday (March 28), did not speak at the press conference, he has made geopolitical waves as the first American ambassador to visit the East Asian nation since the U.S. broke off official diplomatic relations in 1979.
Wu praised Palau for having had zero cases of COVID-19. He said the Palauan leader's trip highlights the pandemic successes of both countries, calling it a milestone in bilateral relations.
"Today was one of those days we thought would never come," Whipps said, referring to the quarantine-free travel corridor, which was launched March 17 and will see its first flight on April 1. He attributed this to Palau's partnerships with Taiwan and the U.S. as well as the Palauan people's confidence to accept visitors from the East Asian country.
Coronavirus vaccines were provided to Palau by the U.S., and vaccinations are well underway in the country. Some 50 percent of Palauans having already received at least the first dose, he stated.
Foreign Minister Wu (left) bumps elbows with U.S. Ambassador to Palau Hennessey-Niland. (Taiwan News photo)
Whipps told the media that Taiwan has been "a very strong partner," citing its assistance in the realms of economic development, agriculture, tourism, and medical care, including Palauan patients who come seeking treatment for cancer and other serious conditions.
Responding to a question about Chinese pressure to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Whipps said Palau is "a very small country, and we believe that it's important to have friends and to be friends with everyone." He said its relationship with Taiwan, one of "partners that solve problems," exemplifies this.
However, he rejected the notion that others can dictate who Palau's allies can be. Whipps, who was inaugurated as president on Jan. 21, told CNA last week that Chinese officials had talked to him about dropping ties with Taiwan in favor of China, an offer he refused.
When asked about China's "carrot-and-stick" approach, he called it "counterproductive" and used a marriage metaphor to contrast the country's diplomacy with Taiwan's. A husband cannot get his wife to love him by beating her, he quipped wryly.